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Richmond City Attorney Lays Out Months-Long Process For Confederate Statue Removal

city council chambers
City Council is expected to begin the process to remove the statues on Monument Avenue at a special meeting on July 1. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

A new state law will go into effect on July 1 giving local governments the ability to take down Confederate monuments, but that doesn’t mean it will happen immediately.

Before Richmond City Council can remove a Confederate monument, it’ll first need to set a public meeting on the issue with 30 days' notice. If they vote for removal at that meeting, they’ll have to wait another 30 days while offering to relocate the statue to any museum or historical society. The new state law directs localities to demolish the pedestal portion of any removed statue “as soon as is practicable.” 

In a presentation to Richmond City Council, Interim City Attorney Haskell Brown said the city charter requires approval from two local commissions as well: the City Planning Commission and the Commission of Architectural Review. Brown said these groups represent potential hurdles, but could not completely stop removal.

“If the planning commission were to not approve the location, character and extent of the removal, the next step is for council to overrule that,” he said. “That doesn’t take long. The council would probably just introduce an expedited resolution and overrule the Planning Commission on appeal.”

City Council can also overrule any decision of the Commission of Architectural Review, Brown said. Six of nine council members told the Richmond Times-Dispatch they will support removing four city-owned Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.

Prior to July 1, localities are  banned by state law from removing, altering or contextualizing all war memorials. That law was  changed earlier this year by the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly. 

Richmond City Council members Michael Jones and Stephanie Lynch called for the immediate removal of the four city-owned Confederate statues along Monument Avenue earlier this week.

On Thursday, Brown warned that doing so could result in criminal charges or lawsuits against the city.

“The biggest fear, if litigation results, is that you end up with an indefinite injunction prohibiting the removal of the monument,” Brown said. “In my opinion, any attempt to try to short cut this process is likely to greatly increase the risk that the statues will remain in place on their pedestals much longer than the time I’ve described before.”

Brown said old deeds and ordinances could present additional roadblocks, but, to date, his office had not identified any other restrictions.

City Council is expected to begin the process to remove the statues on Monument Avenue at a special meeting on July 1.

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