I have received many responses from residents across the First District about my vote during Monday’s Special Meeting for City Council. Many voiced their disappointment that I had voted to remove the monuments and statues from Monument Avenue. I would like to clarify my position.
I did not vote to remove any statue or monument in Richmond.
The November statewide elections for Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates changed the majority makeup in our legislature. This change in power resulted in a new list of legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly. Included in that were five separate papers to provide local governments authority to alter, move, or remove statues in public land. Councilman Michael Jones introduced a paper that expressed the City of Richmond’s support for this upcoming new legislation. Previous attempts at passage had seen this legislation end in Committee at the General Assembly. Local control over statues and monuments in Richmond and across the Commonwealth has been a topic of conversation for many years and now is likely to be approved by the State General Assembly in 2020.
I served on the Monument Avenue Commission in 2018 where we discussed the confederate statues, their meaning, purpose, history, and future. The recommendation of the Commission is to replace the Jefferson Davis statue. However, given the State control over our statues and monuments, there were no next steps to continue this discussion in any manner. Included in those recommendations were to add context and new statues of other Richmond heroes. All of which are currently not legally allowed by the State Charter. Until this General Assembly session.
The upcoming General Assembly is going to vote to give local governments control to alter, move, or remove statues on public land. This provides Richmond a new opportunity for how to use this new authority in a public, transparent, and accountable manner. I voted in support of this paper to be part of this conversation to plan for how our city uses this new power.
There is no statue slated to be removed. I have not voted to remove any monument. I voted for a 1st District voice to be included in shaping our next steps. It is my goal to work with my other Councilmembers to outline how the City of Richmond will approach the conversation around the future of Monument Avenue.
I will work to include the following steps and items following State approval:
- Outline the public process: if City Council requests to ‘alter, move, or remove a statue on public land in Richmond’ this ordinance will be sent to the History & Culture Commission, Public Arts Commission, and Land Use & Economic Development Committee for City Council.
- If approved, public comment meetings required: If approved by all three commissions, there will be further public meetings required prior to bringing before City Council for a formal vote. City Council, Committee, and Commission meetings are not always scheduled for the best times for residents to participate. These meetings would be in the evening and/or weekend to allow for broader input from the public prior to a formal vote by City Council. This legislation would be required on the ‘Regular’ agenda to add further public comment and input prior to a vote by City Council.
- Funding identified and available before action is taken: the last thing we need to pursue is an unfunded recommendation. Funding needs to be identified as part of the request process by City Council or the Mayor to ‘alter, move, or remove a statue in public land’.
- Discuss the value of ‘adding new’ versus ‘removal’ versus ‘replace’: Richmond has a unique, vibrant, and important story to tell. All good stories embrace the context of their past that shaped their present to embrace the future. Our story is one filled with contrasts that have created incredible changes in our city, state, and country. I would like to emphasize Richmond leveraging this new power to change the focus from “removal” to “replacement”. If a monument is approved to be removed, then a replacement statue of another Richmond leader should be erected in its place.
In closing, my vote on Monday in support of the Resolution requesting permission for the City of Richmond to control its public statues and monuments was not in support of removing statues. It was in support of helping shape the process that will unfold with this new authority granted by the General Assembly. A vote ‘No’ for this Resolution with the pending approval by the General Assembly could have limited my ability to contribute to one of the more consequential conversations our city will have in writing its history. This is my story of “the Vote behind the Vote” that shaped my position on Monday’s decision.