Charlottesville City Council has authorized publication of a notice of its intent to remove, relocate, contextualize or cover two statues of Confederate generals that are currently located within city parks. There will be a public hearing June 7 to discuss what will be done with the statues. The statues can be moved 30 days after the hearing.
The step is the beginning of the formal process of taking down the statues after the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in the city’s favor in its appeal of a Charlottesville Circuit Court ruling that the statues could not be removed as they constituted war memorials.
At Monday’s council meeting, several community members gave their opinions on what should be done with the statues.
Former Councilor Kristin Szakos asked the council to plan to remove the statues immediately following the public hearing.
“Speed is of the essence. This community has waited for four years to remove the statues and has seen the harm that they continue to bring to our community with their message of white supremacy. They should not be allowed to convey that message on our behalf one minute longer than necessary,” she said.
Szakos urged the council to consider storing the statues as opposed to sending them to another community.
“Our moral toxic waste cannot be exported to do its damage elsewhere, even if such an arrangement would save our city money,” she said.
“The political may be local and national, but it’s always personal,” said Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, who shared that she is the descendent of ancestors who were enslaved in the Charlottesville area.
“My enslaved ancestors lived as chattel, three-fifths of a person under law, yet totally human. I am because they were. Some 400 years after they survived the wake of several oceans because they came from Madagascar, here I am teaching at Master Jefferson’s university,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins spoke about the importance of symbols and how the statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson continue to stand as symbols of white supremacy.
“It’s in your purview to choose not to allow these statues to be whisked away to the last capital of the Confederacy in Danville down the road and re-erected, but to dispense with the statues in a way that allows for restorative, reparative justice, allowing us to utilize these icons to the wrong kinds of things to actually make justice come to light in Charlottesville,” Hawkins said.
Eight members of the Blue Ribbon Commission released a letter Monday asking the City Council to immediately cover the Lee and Jackson statues until they can be removed and to ensure that the statues are not put on public display elsewhere.
“The statues embody ideologies of white supremacy and are rallying points for those who embrace violence and hatred. They have no legitimate place in the public sphere,” the letter says.
The letter also notes that there is precedent for covering the statues. In August 2017, the city covered the Lee statue with a tarp as a sign of mourning for Heather Heyer and rejection of white supremacy and anti-Semitism following the events of Aug. 12.
Also on Monday, Lisa Robertson was appointed city attorney with a unanimous vote of the council. Robertson has been serving as acting city attorney since March 5, and led the team that won the state Supreme Court appeal.
Robertson was recommended by City Manager Chip Boyles and city staff after they interviewed three candidates for the position left open by John C. Blair, who became Staunton’s city attorney in March.
Councilors commended Robertson after her success in the statue case.
“Anybody who has seen Lisa in action over the last couple of years and all of the statue litigation cannot help but be impressed and recognize that we have someone already here and already known to us who is an excellent city attorney and will be an excellent permanent city attorney,” said Councilor Lloyd Snook.
“Winning a Supreme Court case is no easy thing,” said Councilor Sena Magill. “That’s a really, really impressive feat.”
While the council voted unanimously for Robertson, Mayor Nikuyah Walker voiced concerns about the process and Robertson’s involvement in discussions of credit card use and amending city policies for councilors’ expenditures.
The city started the process of amending credit card use policies after Walker said during a February Facebook Live that she was being investigated for using her city-issued credit card. Walker used her credit card to pay for gift cards as compensation for community members who participated in advisory groups. She also made a donation to a City Council meeting presenter’s nonprofit.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania told the city manager in February that the city should focus on writing clear guidelines, as it would be difficult to prove misuse of the cards in court because employees have not been trained on which types of charges are acceptable and which are not. The city did not previously have an expenditure or credit card policy.
Robertson provided legal advice to councilors as they voted to include $1,000 allowances for councilors in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
“I wish things had happened differently over the past couple months with both the credit card issue and the city manager search,” Walker said. “Those are my concerns, and since they are so personal, I try not to let personal things get in the way, but I did want to state them.”
She said she hopes there would be integrity moving forward.
Some community members voiced disapproval with the lack of community involvement in the decision.
“I’m very disappointed that there wasn’t more transparency in this process. I realize that citizens can’t be involved in every hiring process, but certainly with one of this magnitude and this level there should have been some sort of [forum],” said Don Gathers. “I asked one or two meetings ago about who exactly authorized Ms. Robinson to take the [credit card] situation to the commonwealth’s attorney, and I have not gotten an answer.”