Proposals that would remove Thomas Jefferson’s birthday as a holiday and decide the fate of the statue commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition could also carry sizeable price tags for the city of Charlottesville.
City Council will consider replacing Jefferson’s birthday with Liberation and Freedom Day and establishing a committee to decide the statue’s disposition during its meeting on Monday.
At council’s meeting earlier this month, Mayor Nikuyah Walker proposed eliminating the April observance and replacing it with Liberation and Freedom Day in March.
Jefferson’s birthday is April 13 and the city designates the closest working day as a paid holiday. This year, it was observed on April 12.
Liberation and Freedom Day is designated as March 3. It commemorates the arrival of Union troops under Gen. Philip Sheridan in Charlottesville in 1864, leading to the emancipation of slaves in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Sheridan remained in the area until March 6.
Albemarle County observes Jefferson’s birthday as a holiday, while the University of Virginia does not. UVa does, however, hold Founder’s Day events around the date.
According to city documents, the council added Jefferson’s birthday as an official holiday on Dec. 3, 1945, to mirror the county’s calendar.
The holidays were established by ordinance in 1971.
Walker is proposing that the city recognize March 3 and March 4 as official city holidays and remove April 13, according to city documents.
The staff report says that if March 3 is a Friday and March 4 is a Saturday, then the second holiday would be recognized on March 6. The report doesn't say the operating procedure if both days fall on the weekend, as occurred in 2012 and 2018.
Because two holidays would be added to the calendar while only one is removed, the city would have to pay an estimated $62,500 increase in holiday wages in the upcoming fiscal year.
Council last changed the paid holiday calendar in 2015 by eliminating Lee-Jackson Day, which honors the two Confederate generals. Council also voted in 2017 to commemorate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day, although that is not a paid holiday. Also that year, Liberation Day was recognized by the city, but it was not designated as a paid holiday.
Councilors also will consider establishing a committee to decide the fate of the West Main Street statue commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The 1919 statue depicts explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark accompanied by Shoshone interpreter Sacagawea. Opponents of the statue cite its depiction of Sacagawea in a crouching, subordinate position.
The statue’s fate is complicated by its role in the proposed West Main Streetscape project.
In May, council voted, 4-1, to approve certain aspects of the project and direct staff to establish a public input process on the statue. Walker voted against the proposal, saying it could delay its removal.
The estimated $31 million streetscape project will redesign West Main Street between Jefferson Park Avenue and Ridge-McIntire Road.
As part of the project, the statue would move about 20 feet southwest to an area that will be transformed into a pocket park. City staff estimated the shift would cost about $50,000.
City staff recommended the creation of an oversight committee, similar to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces, and the hiring of a consultant to facilitate community outreach.
The committee would have 11 members, with six at-large members appointed after applying to City Council. Four members would be representatives from the Board of Architectural Review, the Historic Resources Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the PLACE Design Task Force. The final committee member would be someone on city staff who works with the consultant.
The committee’s job would be to gather public input on the statue’s disposition. Options proposed include removing the statue and giving it to another owner, keeping it where it stands, moving it elsewhere in the city and adding signs to highlight Native American history.
The committee would provide advice on several options but would not vote on a recommendation for the statue.
The process would take nine months after the committee is selected and a consultant is hired.
A city staff report recommends a $75,000 budget for consultant fees, meeting space rentals and advertisements.
City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall on 605 E. Main St.