Charlottesville city staff kept the timeline for removing the city’s Confederate statues quiet due to concerns of potential violence and threats to public safety, according to documents obtained by The Daily Progress.
City Procurement Manager Vernice Grooms authorized the emergency procurement of services to remove the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, which were taken down on June 11, just a few days following the City Council’s vote to remove them. Safety was at the top of city staff’s list, according to the documents.
“… the city is approaching the fourth anniversary of the deadly riots and mayhem that followed City Council’s original announcement in 2017 of its intention to remove the statues,” the emergency procurement authorization says. “There exists concern on the part of the City Manager/Director of Emergency Management that if any possible removal by the city cannot (i) be accomplished swiftly; (ii) reflect a flexible scope and parameters that can be adjusted on short notice; (iii) be closely coordinated with a public safety planning team; and (iv) be awarded and acted upon with short notice then the safety of the general public, the contractors participating in the removal and of city employees may be compromised.”
The city did not announce that the statues would be removed until the afternoon prior. Two days before the statues were removed, city workers also had begun to cut shrubbery and trees to allow for the removals, and parking around the Market Street and Court Square parks was marked off.
This was one day after the council voted to appropriate $1 million for removal of the statues, however, the date and circumstances of the removals were not discussed in the meeting.
Hours before the removals were announced, a contractor began installing temporary fencing around the statues.
While this led to speculation from community members, especially on social media, that the statues would be removed in the coming days, city officials did not answer questions about the tree trimming, blocked-off parking or temporary fencing. On the day of the removal, city spokesperson Brian Wheeler said he could not comment on the nature of the emergency that resulted in the city getting an emergency procurement authorization.
The City Council still has not voted on what will happen to the statues, which are currently in city storage.
In May, City Manager Chip Boyles told The Daily Progress it could take a while for the statues to come down due to service procurement, and that it could largely depend on whether the council decides to demolish the statues entirely or to relocate them. Different services and contractors would be needed for these options.
“We will have to procure services for a contractor to remove those, and I don’t know how long that will take,” Boyles said.
“There are caveats … if they’re being removed to be demolished in some way, then it would be a lot cheaper than to remove them in a pristine manner and it’s a lot cheaper to remove than if you’re trying to preserve every aspect of it,” he said.
Under the Virginia Public Procurement Act, municipalities and public bodies are required to go through a public process for competitive sealed bidding when procuring services of a certain minimum estimated amount. The invitation to bid must be posted publicly at least 10 days prior to the date bidding is set to close. However, there are exceptions if the public body can justify emergency reasoning for procuring the services.
According to the law, “in case of emergency, a contract may be awarded without competitive sealed bidding or competitive negotiation; however, such procurement shall be made with such competition as is practicable under the circumstances.”
The public body must include written determination of the basis for the emergency and for the selection of the particular contractor in the contract file. The public body also is required to issue a written notice stating that the contract is being awarded on an emergency basis, and identifying what exactly is being procured, the contractor selected and the date on which the contract was or will be awarded.
The city contract met these requirements.
In June, the city reached out to four contractors about removing the statues before ultimately entering into a contract with Team Henry Enterprises for $980,000 for removal of the statues of Lee and Jackson. The city posted a Notice of Award for the contract early on the morning of July 10 prior to removal of the statues.
Team Henry was paid $680,000 for removal of statues, $200,000 for removal of bases and $100,000 for mobilization costs.
While the emergency procurement authorization was signed June 11, city staff reached out to Reynolds Contracting LLC in Gordonsville prior to then, on June 3. Reynolds removed Albemarle County’s Confederate statue in September. City documents state the owner of Reynolds Contracting was interested in conducting the removal, but he did not follow up to arrange a site visit planned for the week of June 14 and was not responsive to further contact from the city.
The city also contacted Expert House Movers in Virginia Beach and Wolfe House & Building Movers in North Carolina in June, following the emergency authorization. Both companies indicated that they would need to arrange a site visit prior to providing a cost estimate.
According to the emergency procurement documents, Team Henry was chosen to conduct the removal because of the firm’s experience removing Confederate statues “under controversial terms” in Richmond and Tennessee. City staff first spoke with Team Henry’s owner, Devon Henry, on June 16.
The city also noted that the firm was recommended by Jalane Schmidt, professor of race and religion at the University of Virginia and a member of the city’s Historic Resources Committee, as well as Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.
In its removal proposal, Team Henry asked that the city provide “a sufficient police force” to secure the locations where removals took place, as well as police escorts for transporting the statues to city storage.
The firm was contracted to remove the two Confederate statues within a single 24-hour period and to remove the statue bases on a later date but by no later than July 16. The firm was required to remove the statues and bases in such a way that they could be reassembled, however, Team Henry could not be held liable for any damage that occurred during the removals.
Boyles did not respond to a request for comment on city staff’s involvement in the removal process.
While the hushed nature of the project may have prevented bad actors from attending the removal, it also meant those celebrating the removals had less notice.
Community members have rallied around city officials and commended them for their speedy and safe removal of the statues, but some are frustrated that the city didn’t allow the bases to sit empty for a period before removing them.
“I’m very disappointed that [the bases] came down so quickly. I think this was a moment for people in Charlottesville to celebrate,” John Edwin Mason told The Daily Progress.
Mason was a member of the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces that made recommendations to the City Council about the Lee and Jackson statues in 2016. He is a professor of African history and the history of photography at UVa.
“I’m frankly astonished that nobody on council, and nobody at City Hall, seemed to understand that people wanted to celebrate this right and they didn’t want to simply celebrate the moment that the statues were taken off their pedestals and hauled away on a truck, but they wanted to actually let it sink in; savor this moment,” Mason said.