Updated at 8:48 p.m.
A deadlock the Charlottesville City Council is facing regarding its decision on a controversial Confederate monument may soon be broken by a 3-2 vote to relocate it.
Councilor Bob Fenwick said he wants to negotiate with councilors to gain support for several measures he’d like fund in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
After facing intense criticism at the last council meeting for his abstention vote on whether to move the city’s statue of Robert E. Lee, Councilor Bob Fenwick said at a news conference Thursday that his gambit to delay the final vote and focus on other budget items in the meantime worked.
“At the next council meeting on Feb. 6, the motion to move the statue will be made again, and I will support the motion with a ‘yes’ vote,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.
He added that he will then ask the council to request that state Attorney General Mark Herring provide an advisory opinion on what legal challenges the city could face as a result of the decision to move the statue.
Earlier this month, Fenwick abstained from voting on a motion to move the statue, leaving the vote deadlocked at 2-2. However, he voted against another motion to keep the statue in place; that motion failed, with two votes for and three against.
Two days after the council discussed the next annual budget in a public work session, Fenwick said Thursday that he’s confident a majority of the council will support funding several other public initiatives he wanted the council to focus on before revisiting the matter of the statues.
The council did not make any definitive decisions on several initiatives that were talked about Tuesday — and city officials have yet to present estimates for how much revenue the city can expect for the upcoming fiscal year. Nonetheless, Fenwick said he feels assured the council is resolved to create a more citizen-oriented budget.
“With the results of the recent budget work session and the will of the majority of the council to press for appropriations that in the past have been cut or postponed, the community should know how I feel so this particular part of the issue can be put behind us and the community can come together and move forward,” he said.
At that council meeting dealing with the Lee statue, Fenwick said he finds the statue to be symbolic of racism. On Thursday, he suggested there are enough citizens opposed to the statue that it has swayed him to vote for its relocation, calling it a “moral” decision, rather than a political one, as some critics have alleged.
In a statement, Pam Starsia, an organizer with the Charlottesville chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, a group that has been effective in rallying those who wish to see the statue moved, said they were surprised to learn of Fenwick’s decision.
“While we wish the city could have reached this decision sooner, and without the pain caused to so many at the last City Council meeting, we applaud Mr. Fenwick for his decision, and we are deeply appreciative of his action today, along with the earlier votes of Ms. Szakos and Mr. Bellamy,” the statement said.
“We look forward to the day when this hateful symbol of white supremacy is finally removed from our city center.”
Opponents, however, were quick to criticize Fenwick online for his decision, saying that the council will violate state law by trying to move the statue.
“These people have no shame,” said a tweet from the account of the Virginia Flaggers, a citizen advocacy group that supports the public display and preservation of Confederate monuments and memorials.
“[Councilors Wes] Bellamy and [Kristin] Szakos have nothing to lose,” a blog post from the Flaggers’ website said Thursday afternoon. “Their careers are effectively over and they can pursue their agenda of hate, and vote to toss away taxpayer money and waste city resources without fear of any kind of accountability.”
“We can only assume that with this announcement, Fenwick has decided his political career is over, as well.”
Where Fenwick thinks the statue should go, however, does not align with what has been recommended by a commission the council convened last year in response to calls for the statue to be removed from Lee Park.
Last fall, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Publics Spaces recommended that the statue of Lee and one of fellow Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson be re-contextualized either in McIntire Park or in their current locations.
Regarding the Lee statue specifically, seven of the nine commissioners said they would prefer to see it moved to McIntire Park. Five of those nine, however, also voted to keep the statue in place. Only one commissioner, Chairman Don Gathers, said he would like to see the Jackson statue moved.
“I don’t think it would work,” Fenwick said about moving the Lee statue to McIntire Park in a post-news conference interview. “You couldn’t put it down in Tonsler Park. If you couldn’t put it there, why would you put it in McIntire Park?”
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Szakos said she’s pleased with Fenwick’s announcement. She declined to say whether she’s concerned with Fenwick’s reservations about moving the statue to McIntire Park, adding that the motion she put forward at the last meeting left some of those details open-ended.
Last week, Szakos motioned that the council decide on whether to have staff within 60 days make recommendations for where the statue should be moved and how to redesign and rename Lee Park.
“We might take some time to consider what an appropriate place for the statue is; I don’t know what that process will be,” she said.
As for whether the issue will be placed on the upcoming meeting agenda, Mayor Mike Signer said he’s currently unsure if that will happen.
“I can’t say for sure,” he said. “I haven’t heard directly from Councilor Fenwick or my other colleagues on this yet.”
“We don’t typically make decisions about our meetings through press conferences.”