City Council heard from around three dozen people at its marathon five-hour April 18 hearing on the statue of General Robert E. Lee and the forming of a blue ribbon commission on race, memorials and public spaces. Much like the citizens that spoke before them, the councilors found themselves split on how to move forward.
Kristin Szakos and Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy, who held a press conference March 22 to call for removal of the statue and the renaming of the park, favored assembling the commission and getting an opinion within 60 days. Kathy Galvin and Mayor Mike Signer wanted a slower, broader examination of race in public spaces. And Bob Fenwick, who is often on the losing end of 4-1 votes, was ill and could be the decisive vote on the issue.
Signer called for the blue ribbon commission in March, and said his thinking had evolved after holding two town halls and hearing a majority of African-Americans say they don’t want the Lee statue removed. He proposed a new resolution for the commission to provide council with options for telling the full story of Charlottesville’s history of race relations and for changing the city’s narrative through its public spaces, including augmenting the slave auction block at Court Square, completing the Daughters of Zion cemetery and renaming options for existing structures. “I feel very strongly it needs to be holistic,” he said.
Both Szakos and Bellamy objected to dragging out the process and wanted to tackle the Lee statue quickly without getting bogged down in broader issues. “When do we stop talking and get to work?” asked Bellamy.
City Council will have a work session April 28 on the commission itself, and vote on whether to create it May 2. The first meeting in November was proposed for having the commission present its findings.