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Council discusses next steps for statue

During its livestreamed meeting Wednesday, July 1, the Farmville Town Council agreed to ask for clarification from the state attorney general’s office on the next steps in the highly debated removal of the Confederate soldier from the Confederate monument.

At a short reconvened council meeting June 18, which was not lived steamed, council approved the removal of the Confederate soldier statue atop its pedestal located at the intersection of High and Randolph streets, to be preserved and stored until council, in consultation with various community groups and citizens could determine a plan for final disposition of the statute.

On July 1, new legislation took effect, giving cities and counties in Virginia the power to remove Confederate monuments they own and maintain under the new law.

There are currently more than 200 Confederate memorials across the state.

The bill comes three years after the City of Charlottesville voted to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. The decision was quickly met with a lawsuit, which resulted in the Sept. 2019 ruling from Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore that the removal of Confederate monuments violated the Dillon Rule — an established doctrine that restricts the power of localities, only allowing them to have the powers specifically granted from the state government.

Farmville Town Council removed the statute before July 1, which also brought into question if the removal was done properly, according to the law. Councilmembers gave reasons of safety as to why the statue was removed without public input. They now have the option to decide what they would like to do with the statue.

During its July 1 meeting, Town Attorney Gary Elder gave council an update on the new law.

“I suspect we are not the only locality that is going to be grappling with this issue,” Elder said.

He said the new law states a locality may remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover any such monument or memorial on the locality’s public property, not including a monument or memorial located in a publicly owned cemetery, regardless of when the monument or memorial was erected.

Prior to removing, relocating, contextualizing, or covering any such publicly owned monument or memorial, the local governing body shall publish notice of such intent in a newspaper having general circulation in the locality.

The notice shall specify the time and place of a public hearing at which interested persons may present their views, not less than 30 days after publication of the notice. After the completion of the hearing, the governing body may vote whether to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover the monument or memorial.

If the governing body votes to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover the monument or memorial, the local governing body shall first, for a period of 30 days, offer the monument or memorial for relocation and placement to any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield.

The local governing body shall have sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monument or memorial.

In addition, a locality, prior to initiating the public hearing may petition the judge of a circuit court having jurisdiction over the locality for an advisory referendum to be held on the question of the proposal to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover any monument or memorial located on the locality’s public property.

Upon the receipt of such a petition, the circuit court shall order an election to be held.

Councilman Dan Dwyer said he was interested in pursuing the referendum option during the work session.

If the issue goes to referendum, only town residents would have the option to vote.

The need for clarification on the issue came when Elder said he would need to ask if a town had a referendum would a public hearing still need to be held.

According to Elder, it could take some time to get those answers from the attorney general’s office before council could make a decision on the issue.