The empty base of the Lee-Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Mayor Catherine Pugh didn’t follow governmental chain of command when she ordered several controversial Confederate statues be torn down this past August, according to the Maryland Historical Trust, which also acknowledged it’s still highly unlikely they’ll ever go back up in their original locations.

An Oct. 20 letter (via WJZ) from the trust’s director, Elizabeth Hughes, says that while trustees “appreciate the difficult circumstances and decisions that appear to have confronted Mayor Pugh at the time she directed removals of these statues,” attorneys have advised “public safety concerns did not relieve the City of its legal obligations” laid out in an agreement between the city and the trust.

According to a 2016 report from the Rawlings-Blake administration’s Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments, the city entered into an agreement with the trust in 1984 giving the state body the right to first review any changes to monuments before they’re altered or removed. The contract covered three of the four recently removed statues, excluding the one of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney in Mount Vernon.

Hughes asserted in her letter that trustees “will not concede that the [Maryland Historical Trust] lacks the authority…to compel restoration.” However, she acknowledged fully restoring them to their respective former homes “is perhaps untenable,” and that the trust thinks “the best way forward” is a mutual resolution about what to do with them now.

Pugh ordered the statues be torn down in the dead of night on Aug. 16. Two days before, the Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a measure calling for their removal. The Lee-Jackson monument at the Wyman Park Dell, the Confederate Women’s Monument on W. University Parkway, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Bolton Hill and the statue of Taney, who issued the Dred Scott decision denying citizenship to blacks, were all removed and carted off to a secure location.

Pugh said the next day that “with the climate of this nation, that I think it’s very important we move quickly and quietly…and so that’s what I did.”

Days before, a white supremacist rally at the site of a monument to Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va., turned violent, leaving three people dead and dozens injured. Protests erupted in cities all over the country, including Baltimore.

Pugh said she was advised by public safety officials that protesters were going to tear the monuments down themselves if the city didn’t take care of it. Two of them – the Lee-Jackson Monument and the soldiers and sailors monument – had already been defaced with graffiti and a large amount of red paint, respectively.

Now that the statues are sitting in a protected yard, Hughes wrote last week that the trustees wants to be sure they’re a party to any conversations about relocating them. Pugh has convened a work group on the issue.

The trust’s director also laid out two hopeful benchmarks: The city should find permanent homes for the three Confederate monuments within nine months, and permanently install them within 18 months.

Pugh’s newly appointed City Solicitor Andre Davis said in a statement yesterday that the city “looks forward to working with everyone as this process moves forward,” though it hasn’t submitted a formal response to Hughes yet.

“We remain confident that an acceptable resolution of the different perspectives on these issues is within reach,” he said.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...