Lee statue

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville's Lee Park.

The Charlottesville City Council on Monday will decide how it wants to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its eponymous downtown park. 

A community panel last fall suggested that the statue be moved to McIntire Park, but the council on Monday also will discuss whether it wants to sell the statue or donate it.  Two councilors said Friday they’re disinclined to support moving the statue to McIntire.

“We don’t want to put it there,” Councilor Wes Bellamy said. “If we can sell it or auction it off, that would be my preference.”

“It’s not that I’m opposed to it being there; I just don’t think it would be appropriate,” Councilor Bob Fenwick said about moving the statue to McIntire.

Earlier this year, the council voted 3-2 to move the statue. Mayor Mike Signer and Councilor Kathy Galvin voted against the measure.

After directing city management staff in February to return to the council within 60 days with a range of options for the statue’s removal, city officials will present the report to the council and the public Monday.

The council also will decide Monday whether to initiate the process to rename both Lee and Jackson parks. The city is expected to leave its statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson undisturbed, but is planning to build a new memorial to the city’s enslaved population in Jackson Park. 

Last November, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces recommended, among other options, that the Lee statue be moved to McIntire Park. The council convened the panel last spring to study the controversy around the statue and provide a list of possible solutions.

A majority of the commissioners agreed that moving the Lee statue to McIntire would retain the public monument, while removing it from a prominent public square downtown — a gesture that some of the Blue Ribbon Commission members said would deemphasize a perception that the city endorses the South’s history of white supremacy through Jim Crow laws and chattel slavery. 

“Council did not include this option in the resolution it passed in February,” the staff report on the matter says. “However, staff believes it is important to explain what procurement steps would need to take place in order to move the statue within the city limits.”

City officials are recommending that a contractor be hired if the City Council chooses that option.

“If an experienced contractor is hired, risk of personal injury and property damage in the moving process can be both minimized and financial responsibility can be shifted to the contractor and its forces,” the report says. 

Alternatively, the report says the council could decide to either auction off the statue or advertise that it’s for sale with certain conditions, such as requiring the buyer to pay for the removal of the statue.  

Donating the statue to a nonprofit organization or any American government entity is another consideration city staff is presenting. 

The report includes guidance on how the city or a buyer could retain the statue’s place on the National Register of Historic Places.

The council in December decided to allocate $500,000 to implement the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission. The funding was drawn from a nearly $6 million surplus at the end of the 2016 fiscal year.

In February, when the council voted to remove the statue, it also agreed unanimously to earmark up to $1 million for the development, design and implementation of a new master plan for the Historic North Downtown and Court Square districts, where the Lee and Jackson statues are located, respectively. 

Staff proposes that the city engage the public over a 45-day period to draw recommendations for new names for the park. 

“Once the names are collected, the staff would work with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to narrow the suggestions down to 5 to 10 for further consideration,” the report says. The council would then decide to choose one of those names or continue public deliberation.  

Although the City Council will discuss the options Monday, a coalition of Lee statue supporters and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans are suing the council for voting to remove the statue.

The suit alleges that the city would violate a state law protecting memorials to war veterans if it moves the statue.

Aside from seeking punitive damages against the city councilors — at least $100,000 from each of them — the litigants are seeking an injunction so that the suit can be settled before the city does anything with the statue. 

 

 

Chris Suarez is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, csuarez@dailyprogress.com or @Suarez_CM  on Twitter.

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