State Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) is supporting a lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville over the decision to give the Robert E. Lee statue to a museum that plans to melt it. The lawsuit argues that the city didn’t have a competitive or transparent process to consider offers to take the statue, and additionally argues that melting the statue violates the spirit of state law governing monument removals. According to the lawsuit, the statue has already been delivered to a foundry and broken up, although not yet melted down.
“The City can legally remove, relocate, contextualize or cover the Lee monument, but the General Assembly denied the City authority to alter or destroy it,” the Trevillian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation state in the lawsuit.
Reeves told The Virginia Star that although he didn’t support removing the monuments, he helped work on the bill so that a less-bad version could be passed. He helped remove a clause that would allow altering or destroying the monuments. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, meaning that local governments only have authority directly granted by the legislature.
“What we tried to do in Charlottesville, because there was an admission that they were going to actually destroy these monuments in violation of the intent of the General Assembly and what the actual bill reads, that’s why the lawsuit was filed,” Reeves said.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit had previously applied to receive the statue. They seek a temporary injunction blocking further efforts to destroy the statue, and want a permanent injunction requiring Charlottesville to pay for repairs to the Lee statue. If it can’t be repaired, plaintiffs want the bronze from the statue to be uses as a civil war cannon and donated to Civil War battlefields, while the granite from the pedestal is used in memorials, including for Southern soldiers killed in action.
In response to a December 14 letter the plaintiffs sent to the city after announcement of plans for the statue, City Attorney Lisa Robertson said that the statue is already the property of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. She disputed the argument that procurement laws were violated.
Robertson’s letter states, “In this case, the fact that the words ‘alter’ or ‘destroy’ do not appear in section 15.2-1812(B) as an express restriction on governing bodies’ sole authority to decide a final disposition is a clear indication that the General Assembly did not seek at the state level to control what happens to a statue following a transfer of ownership by the local governing body.”
Reeves is also concerned about the way monument removals are being handled by state and city officials in Richmond, but as a legislator, the attorney general represents him in lawsuits. Current Attorney General Mark Herring has shown no interest in fighting monument removal, and current Governor Ralph Northam is working with Richmond officials to complete monument removal before the new Republican administration takes office later this month. Reeves has said he’d work with a conservative attorney general to fight violations of Virginia’s monument law.
Reeves staffer Mark Snesavage said they’re in preliminary discussions with Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares’ staff.
“Knowing that Republicans are coming in, [Democrats are] not leaving much left,” Reeves said.
Reeves identified legal problems in Richmond’s approach to the monuments. He criticized Mayor Levar Stoney allowing the monuments to be defaced, noted that the law requires the Department of Historic Resources to oversee contextualization efforts, and criticized the city’s decision process to determine which organizations get the monuments. That could lead to a lawsuit to try to block further action until Republicans take office.
“I haven’t talked to some of the aggrieved parties yet, but there has been talk about another lawsuit, trying to file an injunction, because what’s happening is no real due process for some of the other organizations,” Reeves said.
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