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Charlottesville officials to start discussions on removal of Confederate statues

Charlottesville officials are preparing to begin discussions about removing the two Confederate statues that were at the heart of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally.

In an April email, City Manager Tarron Richardson indicated that he wants to hold so-called 2-2-1 meetings with the City Council in June to discuss the removal of the statues.

The Daily Progress obtained the email through a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Such 2-2-1 meetings are used by governments to meet with less than a quorum of elected officials so that an open meeting is not required.

City spokesman Brian Wheeler said last week that officials “anticipate being able to engage the community in the process later this summer.”

Richardson’s email came four days after Gov. Ralph Northam signed bills that give localities the authority to remove, relocate or alter their Confederate monuments. The legislation goes into effect July 1. Virginia is home to more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy.

In 2017, the city voted to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee and, later, one of fellow Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The vote spurred a deadly white supremacist rally that tried to unite various far-right factions on Aug. 12, 2017, as well as a lawsuit to protect the monuments, which the city lost.

Richardson’s email specifically calls for discussions on the “removal” of the statues.

When asked if other options are under consideration, the city said it did not have “any further information to share at this time.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Richmond City Council was in active discussions about its monuments and the Norfolk City Council wanted to remove a statue. Since the pandemic started, no public discussions among other Virginia localities have been reported by media outlets.

The state, however, has funded new signage around a statue of Harry Byrd Sr. on Capitol Square in Richmond to mark his role in the Massive Resistance campaign against desegregation.

The new legislation allows, but does not require, localities to hold a nonbinding referendum on what to do with monuments. The new law requires localities to first publish a notice of intent in a newspaper, followed by a public hearing within 30 days.

However, unlike other local governments, Charlottesville has an extra roadblock. Because a judge issued a permanent injunction of the Lee and Jackson statues’ removal, the city would have to petition the court to remove the injunction before taking any action.

Richardson wants to hold meetings after the council approves its budget for fiscal 2021, which it’s expected to do on June 1.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said she isn’t familiar with all of the new law’s requirements for removing statues, but cautioned governments from waiting too long before informing the public.

“If you go too much in this direction of having these 2-2-1 kinds of meetings, you risk not only getting pushback on one side or the other based on the policy decisions — you’re also going to get pushback on the way it was handled,” she said.


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