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Council votes to sell Lee statue

Council votes to sell Lee statue

Lee statue

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

Despite a pending court case that will ultimately determine the general’s fate, the Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 Monday evening to sell the city’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

After more than a year of contentious debates about what should be done with the statue gripped the community and created divisions among some neighbors, the council directed staff to solicit proposals for a purchase of the statue. 

According to the resolution Councilor Kristin Szakos put forward Monday, the buyer would be responsible for removing and transporting the statue. 

Before the vote Monday, Councilor Bob Fenwick, who become the tie-breaker earlier this year in the vote to move the statue, said he’s ready for a pause. 

“It is now time for our city to rest,” he said. 

The reprieve Fenwick envisioned might be short-lived, however. 

Moments before the council voted on the measure, City Attorney Craig Brown said the city will need to clear a monumental legal hurdle before the statue can be sold and relocated. 

“… [T]here is a pending court suit challenging the right to relocate the Lee statue,” Brown said. “I think the process is geared toward a contractual agreement to move the statue somewhere else, but my advice is to have that be contingent on a favorable ruling in the court case.”

The council unanimously agreed to renaming Lee and Jackson parks, as well. 

According to that resolution, staff will engage the public over the next few weeks to come up with potential names for the two parks. The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Historic Resource Committee will then narrow the name recommendations and share them with the council. 

The City Council will then consider the new park names at its June 5 meeting. 

After voting 3-2 in February to remove the statue, city staff devised options for how the city might move the statue. The staff advised that the city can sell, auction off or donate the statue.

The decision to sell the statue contradicts a recommendation a community panel the council created last year to identify solutions to resolve the controversy surrounding the statue.

Among other recommendations, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces said the council should consider moving the Lee statue to McIntire Park. 

During the public comment period at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, several community members addressed the Lee statue. 

“That emblem of white supremacy should have never been put up in the center of the city, and it could not be removed quickly enough,” Ben Doherty said about the Lee statue. “I encourage City Council to pursue the options that most efficiently lead to its removal.”

Doherty, an organizer with Showing Up for Racial Justice, asked Mayor Mike Signer not to oppose whatever decision is made about removing the statue. Along with Councilor Kathy Galvin, Signer voted against removing the statue.

“If we truly want to be the capital of the resistance, then let’s show some leadership on this difficult issue,” Doherty said. “Respect the 3-2 vote of the City Council and work with your colleagues to move forward as quickly as possible in removing this racist statue from our midst.”

A panel created last spring to address community concerns about the cultural appropriateness of the statue recommended that the city move the statue to McIntire Park.

The three councilors who voted to remove the statue said last week that they are not interested in that option.

Genevieve Keller, a member of the city’s Planning Commission, also spoke about the possibility of the statue being relocated. Keller said she wants the council to make sure that any decision about the statue be made openly and with consideration of how the public might access it if it’s relocated.

“Any relocation should stipulate continued access to the resource. It should be conducted in a manner that promotes the preservation and protection of the resource,” she said. “The city could even contemplate continued ownership and pursue relocation alternatives that might be based on a loan or co-ownership basis to ensure continued curation.”

The city currently is facing a lawsuit over the council’s decision to remove the Lee statue.

The litigants — a coalition of mostly local community members and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans — are seeking an injunction so that the suit can be resolved before the city takes action to remove the statue.

Charles Weber, a spokesman for the group suing the city, said Monday that a court hearing for the injunction has been scheduled for May 2.

According to legal documents filed Monday, the city wishes to have the request for injunction dismissed.

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

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