TO OUR MCHC MEMBERS:
Please take the time to read the following mail from Martha Hartzog, president of the Austin-based Save Our Historic Monuments. The Texas Historical Commission will be discussing the newly proposed historical marker regulations on January 20, which opens the door to removing historical markers and monuments in Texas without thorough vetting and without adequate opportunities for county historical commissions, local government officials and property owners to voice their objections or concerns. I have already sent my concerns to the THC.
In effect, these decisions will be made by THC administrative staff members and agency officials who probably have never been to these communities. YOU ARE INVITED TO REGISTER FOR THIS ZOOM MEETING.
I also encourage you to take the time to read the two attached well-reasoned and researched critiques by legal scholars. As a CHC member, you need to be informed about the issues that affect the preservation of Texas history as we accurately understand it.
Larry L. Foerster, Chairman
Montgomery County Historical Commission
From: Martha A Hartzog <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, January 4, 2021 7:39 PM
Dear County Historical Commissions:
It is my understanding that the staff of the THC is planning a zoom meeting on January 20 to discuss the newly proposed changes to the historical marker regulations, changes that will be voted on at the quarterly Commission meeting on February 2-3, 2021. To sign up to attend the January 20 meeting, here is the link: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYrfuqqpjspE9Qwa4lWgEsrpnQR86B_0a25.
The marker program is one of the key functions of the county historical commissions, so any change in regulations is very significant indeed. Apparently, the new regulations were prompted by the fact that although there already are provisions for removal of markers based on inaccurate history, there is as yet no provision to remove a marker based on the fact that the subject matter is not popular.
According to the letter sent to all the county historical commissions by the THC, the revised procedures have been further revised by the THC to involve the CHCs to some extent in the removal process. However, there is still no real power vested in the CHCs in this process. They are asked simply to “submit a response” which may or may not have any impact on the final decision made by the THC.
To protect these historic markers and to provide a clear and equitable process for any alteration, the marker regulations need to provide for the following:
(1) A process to actively involve the county historical commissions (CHCs) and ALSO inform the stakeholders (the individuals and groups who sponsored the marker, did the research, and paid for it) whenever removal of a marker is proposed. Instead of mere “notification” provided to the CHCs, as is currently provided, the approval of the CHC should be required to remove a marker just as it is required to put one up. (“Inform” here means actually sending a letter or an e-mail regarding the proposed change directly to a stakeholder, not just passively posting a notice on a statewide message board);
(2) Sufficient time for response by the CHCs, taking into consideration that county historic commissions and their marker committees do not meet on a regular basis; also that individuals or organizations originally sponsoring the marker should be consulted; 30 days as is currently stipulated is not sufficient time for meaningful response and recommendation;
(3) A set of clear criteria to be met when requesting removal or modification; said criteria being equally as rigorous as the requirements to erect the marker in the first place; no criteria seems to exist at this point in time, opening up the removal process to be based on a simple complaint that the marker subject matter is not popular;
(4) Liability provision for damage to, defacement, or unauthorized removal of the marker on the grounds that it is state property;
(5) Stipulations for reimbursement for costs incurred when the marker was erected, such stipulations to include dedication ceremony expenses. For older markers, the reimbursement could be limited to the cost of replacement and be provided to the CHCs. Removal without some sort of cost reimbursement is essentially an unfunded mandate.
The historic marker program is at the very heart of the work that is done by the county historical commissions and was the initial purpose of the Texas Historical Commission when it was created in the 1950s. This program needs to be protected. Historic markers have continued to be extremely popular with the public, and the “atlas” listing these markers on the THC website is perhaps the most popular area of the THC website.
It makes no sense to weaken the historic marker program by allowing the easy removal of these markers. It should be as hard to remove a marker as it is to put one up.
To go deeper into the issues, attached are two critiques of the proposed revisions for marker removal, prepared by two legal scholars, which cite “chapter and verse.” Both of these documents were sent to the Texas Historical Commission by the deadline of December 14, in response to the proposed regulation revisions published in the Texas Register.
Make no mistake, all historical markers in Texas are jeopardized when it becomes easy to remove any marker without due process and without clear criteria. These markers document history and history is rarely simple or uncontroversial.
Martha Hartzog, President
Save Our Historic Monuments