DEXTER - A group of people are working to protect Missouri's historical monuments, memorials and veterans' grave markers.
In an effort to give that protection, State Sen. Bill Foster (District 25) filed SB 640 Thursday. When enacted, the bill will amend Chapter 253, RSMO by "creating the State Historical Monuments, Memorials and Markers Board."
The Heritage Protection Committee of Missouri, who worked with Foster on the bill, believe the creation of the state board is necessary to oversee the activities of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Park and Recreation Division. The DNR is the state agency that controls and maintains Missouri's state historic sites, including monuments, memorials, markers and the interpretive guides and themes located on these historic sites.
"The Department of Natural Resources has demonstrated by the way they handled the recent removal of the Confederate Battle Flags at the Confederate Memorial Park in Higginsville and at historic Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob, that they are a closed-door agency," said Bruce Hillis of Dexter, head of the committee. "They may indicate in their brochures and other communications that they want public feedback. However, their practices indicate the opposite. They make all decisions that affect Missouri's historic sites inside the agency. We believe this board will make the DNR more open and accountable to the public as well as more historically accurate and culturally balanced."
The group has learned that several states have a board, committee or commission, comprised of unpaid citizens from a broad cross-section of the public sector. Members come from many walks of life, including archaeology, architecture, history, economic development, heritage tourism, public administration and urban planning who administer their states' heritage codes, historic sites and cultural icons. The Heritage Protection Committee reported that SB 640 was modeled on an existing Texas statute.
"Unlike Texas, which has had the Texas Historical Commission for over 50 years to oversee the Texas antiquities code, Missouri has delegated this activity to a single person, the director of the Department of Natural Resources," Hillis said. "The current director, Steve Mahfood, has oversight by only one person - the governor.
"We don't believe that all decisions regarding the protection, presentation and interpretation of our heritage and our cultural icons on Missouri's historic sites should be vested in only one person, no matter how much education or experience he has, nor even if his boss is our honorable governor."