Council approves $1 million in funding for statue removal

(This article was originally included in the July 7, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

Whenever a plan becomes known for what will happen to the Confederate Statues in two Charlottesville parks, funding will be in place to cover at least some of the costs. Charlottesville City Council took action this morning at a special meeting on a resolution to allocate $1 million to the effort, which would be a legal action given a ruling this spring by the Virginia Supreme Court that the two statues are not protected war memorials. Council voted on June 7 on a resolution to ask groups if they had interest in taking ownership. (read the resolution)

“The 30 day window for considering statue relocation is coming to a close very shortly so we wanted to be able to have funding in place to take care of that,” Boyles said. 

So far, there have been eight inquiries from entities interested in taking on the statues. 

The resolution voted on by Council today also covered the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue on West Main Street. 

“This is just putting funding in place so that we can either remove, store, or cover any or all of the three statues,” Boyles said. 

Boyles said Council will have to vote to approve any transfer of ownership. The funding allocated today could cover the costs of relocating or covering, actions which by themselves would not require a vote by Council. 

Councilors did not make any comments before taking the vote. In the public comment period, art historian Malcolm Bell said Council should not treat the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue the same as the Confederate statues. 

“The Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea monument is an important work of art by a well-known artist,” Bell said. “It is also completely innocent of the accusations that have been made against it.”

Council directed staff to come up with a plan to remove the statue in November 2019. Charlottesville Mayor Walker said the request came from Sacagawea’s descendants. 

“If people go back and look at that 2019 meeting, we didn’t just make this decision and tried to be really thoughtful about making the decision, I guess that’s my comment, by bringing Sacagawea’s descendants here.” 

Council also held first readings on three resolutions for which there were not fully detailed staff reports. Boyles said the items were urgent matters. The first was an appropriation of $1.986 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“The city will be the recipient of just approximately $19 million that is divided over a two year period,” Boyles said. “Right now what we’re recommending is that for community support that we go ahead and approve on July 19 funding for the Peace in the Streets program, which is a neighborhood support program and likewise the mentoring at Lugo-McGinness Academy. These are both [Conscious] Capitalist programs.” 

Other funding in this appropriation includes $300,000 for the Legal Aid Justice Center for a eviction prevention program as well as $811,000 for emergency assistance for families through the Pathways program, $250,000 in support for small businesses, and $200,000 in safety improvements at the City Hall lobby.

“We will do community engagement,” Boyles said. “There will be a public hearing at your July 19th meeting on this matter and we’ll be able to provide a written presentation on this ahead of time.” 

Council also took first reading on a resolution to use funds to provide bonuses to encourage more people to apply as bus drivers for both the school system and Charlottesville Area Transit. Boyles said the school system needs about 30 drivers to operate, but is well below that figure at the moment. 

“We do have the ability through additional routes to get by without about 14 drivers and we currently have nine drivers with the school year right upon us,” Boyles said. “This is not unique to Charlottesville or Albemarle or Virginia. This is a national epidemic that’s occurring all over.”

The resolution proposes a $2,400 bonus for new drivers as well as enhanced health benefits for school bus drivers. Participants would get that bonus over a nine-month period, and existing drivers would also get the amount to encourage them to stay on the job. 

A similar bonus will go for CAT drivers to prevent people from quitting that job to drive a school bus. If approved on July 19, the program would last two years. 

More details will be available in time for the July 19 meeting. 

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