R.E. Lee Statue

In Emancipation Park, Charlottesville city workers veil the Robert E. Lee statue with a giant tarp as residents look on in November 2017.

Attorneys representing a group of Charlottesville-area residents suing the city to prevent the removal of monuments of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson want the city’s Circuit Court to order the removal of tarps that are currently covering them.  

Following the aftermath of the white nationalist Unite the Right rally Aug. 12, which turned fatal, the City Council voted unanimously to shroud the statues. Officials said the intent was to provide a period of mourning after Heather Heyer, 32, was slain after a driver sped into a crowd near the Downtown Mall and two Virginia State Police troopers died when their helicopter crashed in Albemarle County after they provided rally surveillance and information that day. The council never agreed on a fixed date for removing the shrouds.

Earlier this month, the council voted to amend a previous resolution to redesign the statues’ respective parks in a two-phase approach amid the litigation and an upcoming legislative push that could enable the city to remove the statues.

With the first phase of the redesign calling for the installation of a more permanent fixture to cover the statues as the city waits for resolution in court or the General Assembly, the plaintiff’s attorneys are alleging that shrouding the statues is a violation of the same law they believe disallows the city from removing the controversial Confederate monuments.

“The Monument Fund and the other plaintiffs today filed a motion asking the Court to order the City to remove the covers and cease impeding access to them,” said a news release from plaintiff Charles “Buddy” Weber.

Though the court last month denied a request for the tarps to be removed, given the city’s assertion that the tarps are a temporary fixture, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are alleging that the recent council resolution and other circumstances should compel the court to grant their new request.

“The motion points out that the city never got [Board of Architectural Review] approval for the covers. And winter winds, tarps frozen to the monuments, and the weight of snow increase the potential for damage,” Weber said.

When the council voted in August to also seek the removal of the Jackson statue, it also agreed to seek the BAR’s permission to remove the statue, a fact reiterated in the Nov. 6 resolution amending the council’s resolution for the redesign of the two parks.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall recently petitioned a state court to issue a fine against the city of Birmingham over the local government’s decision to partially cover a Confederate monument following the Charlottesville rally. A decision has yet to be made regarding Marshall’s request, according to the motion filed Monday.

Citing the Alabama case, the Charlottesville plaintiffs’ attorneys are asking that the Charlottesville Circuit Court consider a similar per diem fine against each city councilor if the city chooses to disobey a court order to remove the shrouds on the Lee and Jackson statues.

“In view of the city’s annual budget of approximately $160 million, only a substantial fine (or the prospect of incarceration of individual Defendant Councilors) will obtain compliance with this Court’s previous Orders and findings enjoining interference with the Monuments, prohibiting City acts that damage them, and requiring that the covers are to be temporary,” the motion says.

In an email last week, Councilor Kathy Galvin said physically screening the statue is part of the proposed redesign for the park. She said the reason for amending the resolution from earlier this year is so the city can “begin to change the narrative in those parks” on a city-established “timeline.”

Galvin said the first phase will begin while the court case and the General Assembly work concurrently on resolving whether the statues should be removed.

“In Phase One, we will engage the community on how to physically screen the statues while more fully and honestly revealing their meaning. This community engagement phase will also get folks thinking about how their values should be reflected in our monuments, memorials and public parks,” she said, adding that the redesign in the preliminary phase will include new landscaping, plaques and signage.

Scheduled to review the city’s legislative agenda for the upcoming General Assembly in January, Galvin said the council is planning to request legislation that would enable the city to remove the Confederate monuments.

“The Democrats are sympathetic to Charlottesville and granting local governments the power to decide the fate of their own statues, so we could be in striking distance of getting the state legislation we need and want,” she said.

The legislative agenda also includes calls for granting the city more authority to place restrictions on firearms at public protests and prohibitions on burning torches with the intent to intimidate in public places.

Galvin also pointed out that the legislative agenda will also push legislators to pass bills that would enable the city to adopt “inclusionary affordable housing zoning ordinance” and the authority to award public contracts based on local hiring and job creation benefits rather than the lowest qualified bid.

The next court date for the Charlottesville statue case is scheduled for Dec. 6.

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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