TAZEWELL, Va. — Tazewell County voters may get a chance in November to decide the fate of a Confederate statue in front of the courthouse in Tazewell.

On Tuesday, the board of supervisors will discuss the issue and possibly make a decision.

“At that time, the board will convene (at 4 p.m.) to consider whether to hold a referendum on whether the Confederate statute should remain on courthouse grounds…” said County Administrator Eric Young.

“The General Assembly provides a new avenue for localities to address the issue of removing historical monuments,” said Board Chair Charlie Stacy. “Before, it was not permitted except by the General Assembly.”

Stacy said localities now may remove or relocate the statues or may place the issue on a ballot for the voters to decide.

“I suspect we will take the referendum route to hear the will of the people,” he said.

“As you know, leading in this moment is incredibly difficult,” said Northern District Supervisor Maggie Asbury. “We’ve found ourselves having to make decisions often with incorrect information but we have certainly tried to communicate what we do know factually to our Tazewell County citizens.”

Asbury said it is “even more important than ever to listen to our people.” 

“We are receiving comments from many residents regarding the law which became effective today (Wednesday),” she said. “Many are in favor of keeping it where it is and many would like to see it moved. Our board will discuss allowing the residents to vote on a referendum to decide where the statue will be located. I certainly have my own personal feelings but all of us try to keep in mind we serve the people.”

“Our board has received a significant number of petitions, emails and letters regarding the monument,” said Southern District Supervisor Mike Hymes. “The new law allows the issue to be placed on the ballot for a referendum vote by the citizens.”

Hymes said that in the past there have been several issues that residents wanted on the ballot, including he windmills on East River Mountain, the Second Amendment sanctuary and zoning in the Eastern District.

“But we were unable to do so,” he said. “The new law … allows for a citizens vote just like the vote on the countywide meals tax which failed to pass. At our meeting on July 7 I will urge the board of supervisors to let the citizens vote in November to tell the board where to locate the monument. November is a presidential election so voter turnout will be significant, assuring everyone the opportunity to decide the location.”

Legislation that passed this year and went into effect July 1 allows a locality to “remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover any monument or memorial for war veterans on the locality’s public property, not including a monument or memorial located in a publicly owned cemetery, regardless of when the monument or memorial was erected, and removes certain criminal and civil penalties…”

A public hearing must be held on the issue and … “After the completion of the hearing, the governing body may vote whether to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover the monument or memorial. If the governing body votes to remove, relocate, contextualize, or cover the monument or memorial, the local governing body shall first, for a period of 30 days, offer the monument or memorial for relocation and placement to any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield. The local governing body shall have sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monument or memorial. The bill authorizes the local governing body to call for an advisory referendum prior to voting on such motion.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said earlier this week the bill allows communities to “tell their own stories.”

“These grandiose Confederate monuments memorialize one of the darkest periods in Virginia history and they represent oppression and injustice to so many who call our Commonwealth home,” he said. “Giving localities the ability to remove or contextualize their monuments will allow these communities to tell their own stories – an important step on Virginia’s path to becoming even more open and welcoming.”

More than 20 Confederate monuments were erected in Southwest Virginia between 1883 and 1920 during the height of Civil War commemoration, according to civilwar.vt.edu.

Tazewell County’s “Common Soldier” was erected in 1903.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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