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City Council approves resolution to sell Jackson monument to LAXART

Charlottesville City Council approves resolution to sell Jackson monument to LAXART

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Charlottesville City Council discussed the future of the Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Lewis and Clark statues, its Civilian Police Review Board and the appointment of a city manager in an over six-hour long meeting Monday evening.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill say goodbye

The Council began the meeting by bidding farewell to Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill, both of whom did not run for re-election. They will be replaced in January by Democrats Brian Pinkston and Juandiego Wade.  

“The last four years have been uniquely challenging for Charlottesville,” Hill said. “This small city has carried a lot on its shoulders, and I believe these challenges have impacted the work that Council and staff have been able to accomplish.”

In an 18-minute speech, Walker also reflected on her time on City Council and what she hopes the Charlottesville community can become moving forward. 

“As I’ve told the Council multiple times, making a decision and being honest with the community about where we are as a community is going to be essential for whoever comes next,” Walker said. “For this to be successful, the community is asking who we are and how we fit in this world and are we going to allow the systems that have been created off of pillaging communities, destroying people, and off of the labor of those enslaved, are we gonna continue to let those foundations rule in modern day?” 

Walker emphasized the importance of the work that still needs to be done, telling the Council that it needs to confront present challenges rather than attributing its difficulties to the turbulent past four years. Walker noted it is the obligation of councilors to help the community heal. 

“Creating an equitable community, destroying the system that upholds the white supremacist thought process, that upholds the status quo, that upholds the fabric that America was built on and that Charlottesville is a local model of, is the work that’s gonna have to be done,” Walker said. 

City Council votes to relocate Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statue

City Council then moved into public comment concerning items on its consent agenda, including approving the final disposition of the Jackson statue. In December, the Council reviewed six submitted proposals for the future of both the Jackson and the Robert E. Lee statues — both monuments were removed July 10 after years of advocacy from students and community members. 

In early December, City Council voted unanimously to donate the Lee statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. JSAAHC plans to melt the bronze statue into metal blocks and transform them into a new public work of art.

The selected proposal for the Jackson monument comes from LAXART, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit art space — the city will sell the statue to them for $50,000, part of which will go towards the cost of removing the statue. LAXART intends to use the statue in an upcoming exhibition tentatively titled “MONUMENTS.”

​​“MONUMENTS will de- and re-conextualize the Confederate monument from the perspective of the present moment … in the wake of recent white supremacist extremism,” the proposal states.

During the public comment session, six speakers expressed opinions ranging from full opposition of the proposal to support for recontextualizing the monuments. 

“I am very grateful that they have moved, I’m very grateful that the Lee statue at least has been disposed towards a good purpose, so that bronze symbol of hate that no longer looms over our city,” said Andrew Shelton, a descendant of a Confederate soldier.

City Council then voted to approve the agenda, officially accepting LAXART’s proposal for the statue. Also on the approved agenda was a resolution to award $680,263 to support non-congregate emergency shelter operations as part of a COVID-19 emergency fund. 

Community members voice support for Lewis and Clark statue relocation, opposition to rezoning proposal

The Council then moved into community matters — 16 people spoke, the maximum number allowed by the council. Many expressed concerns about an agenda item proposing rezoning property near Nassau St., located less than two miles of the Downtown Mall. Citizens said they were worried about the suggested development of the area because it is a floodplain. 

Others voiced support for another upcoming agenda item, approving the final disposition of the Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea statue titled "Their First View of the Pacific.” The statue — which was located on West Main St. and showed Sacagawea cowering behind Lewis and Clark — was removed alongside the Lee and Jackson monuments in July. The disposition is a proposal from the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, which would display and recontextualize the statue with input from descendants of Sacagawea. 

“I speak in favor of the resolution, and your words are critically important because they are things we say that we already do,” said Grace “Softdeer” Hays, a Chickasaw descendant. “To acknowledge them on paper is important.”

City Council considers amendments to budget

After community concerns, the Council moved into approving action items on the agenda, the first of which was considering amendments to its 2021 fiscal year budget. 

The Council considered three recommendations, the most prominent of which was to transfer a $6 million surplus originally set aside in an emergency COVID-19 relief fund to the City’s Capital Improvement Program Contingency account. City Council did not vote on any of these amendments — it will not vote until the new term of City Council starts Jan. 1.

Walker said if she were to vote on this matter, she would not support moving the funds into the CIP account. Other councilors noted that there simply isn’t enough money to fund all the projects they would like to see finished, and that much of the money will be “eaten up” by existing projects. 

City Council discusses re-enacting its Police Civilian Review Board

For almost an hour, City Council then discussed an ordinance re-enacting the Police Civilian Review Board as an oversight board. Efforts have already been underway by the Council to dissolve the current board and replace it with an oversight board — doing so would mean expanded powers for the board, including more transparency between police and the board. 

Councilors first debated a provision in the amended document which states that “members shall participate in a ride-along session with the [Police] Department.” Both Walker and Councilor Sena Magill noted that this ordinance may prevent members from applying or being selected to the board because of possible poor experiences individuals may have had with police cars in the past. 

“Working In mental health for 17 years, this body is very much supposed to be about bringing forward and also listening to people who are seeing a policing system differently than I have experienced a policing system,” Magill said. “It’s to have a very well-rounded and to see the whole thing, and if we exclude people based on a bad experience… with interaction with police, that is narrowing our field.” 

Magill suggested that instead, members could ride along with police officers on bicycles or sit in on 911 calls. Councilor Lloyd Snook suggested waiving the requirement for physically disabled members like those in wheelchairs who may not physically be able to sit in a car. Mayor Walker emphasized her opinion that the ride-along should not be a requirement for anyone looking for membership on the board. 

The Council then debated whether third-party complaints would be an issue — for example, if an individual did not want a matter to be investigated which was reported by an uninvolved third-party. 

City Council voted to adopt the proposed ordinance after further discussion of language in the amendment. 

The next item on the agenda was approving the rezoning of land at Nassau St. that citizens had raised concerns about during the community concerns period. Councilors agreed to table this item, as many felt they did not have enough information to make an informed decision. 

Next, City Council moved into approving the final disposition of the Lewis and Clark statue. This discussion, too, lasted almost an hour as councilors heard from Rose Ann Abrahamson — one of Sacagawea’s ancestors and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes — and Alexandria Searls, the executive director of the Exploratory Center. 

In a statement to City Council, Abrahamson said that she and other descendants would like language added to the proposal giving them increased involvement in decisions related to the statue’s display.

Searls responded that the Center wasn’t “looking for a full merger,” and that she felt blindsided by this proposal, which she said she had not heard until the meeting. 

Abrahamson responded that she had been trying to get in contact with Searls but was unable to, as Searls had turned her phone off leading up to the meeting. The two continued to debate the timeline of the proposal and the position that Abrahamson and other descendants would have in its display. Searls also brought up potential legal roadblocks in giving Abrahamson and descendants full control over the statue’s future. 

“I really want to have a generational authority in regards to this statue,” Abrahamson said. “I want to know where it goes, what happens to it.” 

After listening to these discussions, Hill said she felt the Council was “back at square one.” Abrahamson and Searls agreed to continue discussions. 

Ultimately, City Council voted unanimously to reject the proposal, deciding that it did not meet the City’s goals for the statue. The statue will remain in storage until a new proposal is submitted and approved by the Council. 

City Council contracts outside firm for city manager position

Past midnight, City Council reached the final action item on the agenda, the consideration of the award of a contract for city manager service. Charlottesville has seen unprecedented turnover in the City Manager position in the past three years. 

In early December, then-interim city manager Marc Woolley resigned less than a month after accepting the position. Woolley was appointed after previous manager Chip Boyles resigned following controversy regarding the firing of former Charlottesville Police Department chief RaShall Brackney, the City’s first Black female police chief. Woolley was the City’s sixth city manager since 2018.

City Attorney Lisa Robertson said that while contracting the city manager position to an outside firm is unusual, it’s also not unheard of. The council approved a contract for the Robert Bobb Group, a firm that specializes in consulting and advising for the public and private sector. Walker abstained from voting, citing her opinion that this decision should not be made by outgoing councilors. 

The meeting ended at 1 a.m. following a presentation from the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund and the Community Development Block Grant Task Force. 

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