Town council members discuss statue decision

Published 5:05 pm Monday, June 22, 2020

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The Farmville Town Council voted unanimously to remove the Confederate statue located at the intersection of High and Randolph streets Thursday night, June 18. The removal began less than an hour after the vote was taken.

Council members later took time to share their perspectives on the events of Thursday night. Some gave insight into why they voted the way they did, why the removal came so quickly after the vote and what the plan is regarding the statue moving forward.

At-Large Councilman Thomas M. Pairet explained his vote.

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“I will say this — I felt like it was necessary to try to preserve and protect our citizens of the Town of Farmville as well as the statue,” he said. “In light of our current events around the world, there’s a lot of hostility and volatility going on, and we wanted to try to preserve peace and tranquility here and try to be protective of the town and the statue as well.

“I’m hoping that in the near future that we will be able to offer people the chance to have a voice in this,” he continued. “But at this time, I felt like it was pertinent that we try to be proactive in the safety of (everyone). Regardless of what side you’re on, I didn’t want to see anybody get hurt, so therefore I voted for the removal of it to preserve the protection of the statue as well as the protection of the community and its members, regardless of how they felt.”

Ward A Councilman Greg Cole and Ward E Councilman J.J. “Jamie” Davis shared similar thoughts in their statements, emphasizing the safety of the community.

On June 10 in Portsmouth, Virginia, protestors were partially dismantling a Confederate monument. Part of the monument was pulled down and struck another protestor, causing life-threatening injuries.

Pairet confirmed scenarios like this one were on the minds of Farmville Town Council members.

“Yes, that was very much a concern of ours,” he said.

At-Large Councilman Daniel E. Dwyer echoed this in a statement he shared.

“In light of the fact that several monuments in Virginia have been torn down and that one person was seriously injured by the falling monument, I voted to remove the monument in concern for public safety and to preserve the monument,” he said.

Ward B Councilman Brian Vincent indicated he took the same approach to his vote on this issue that he does with his votes on all issues.

“As a council member, my perspective is shaped through an altruistic lens that seeks to always do what’s best for the whole of Farmville, so no self-serving agenda, no agenda influenced by anything outside of rather what is best for the safety and prosperity of our town and residents, and that’s how I proceed in all cases,” he said. “And so I did the same in this instance.”

The sequence of events was quick Thursday night. The council meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. and removal of the statue with a crane was underway by 7:30 p.m. There was also a town truck waiting, and police had secured the area around the monument.

Mayor David Whitus gave insight into the options the council was facing.

“We were aware that Confederate statues and their locations have been identified by various groups and organizations with the intent to do harm,” he said. “The town staff determined that the statue located here was held in place by one bolt in the center of the base. It was also determined that the statue is hollow. Town staff estimated it could be removed in a matter of minutes with a rope and vehicle by anyone that would want to deface or destroy the statue.

“The decision before council was to take no action which presented the strong possibility that confrontation would occur with likely bodily and property injury and the destruction of the statue,” he continued. “The other option was to act quickly and remove the statue, preserve it, and avert confrontation and all that comes with it.”

Whitus said since the statue has been preserved, the community can now have a conversation — be it in the form of a committee, commission, public forum or ballot — about how best to proceed.

“By acting quickly, we have a statue to have a conversation about, and we have no collateral damage,” he said.

As for the current location of the statue, Pairet admitted Friday he did not know where it was, and Vincent explained why the undisclosed nature of its location is important.

“As far as where it is, I think it would be a dereliction of duty as far as regards to public safety if we had been told where it was now, because that puts the public safety and the preservation of property in the same predicament it was previously,” he said.

Dwyer and Pairet shared their thoughts on what they hope comes next for the statue.

“It is my desire to have the monument’s future location to be determined through open discussion in our community or even the possibility of a referendum,” Dwyer said.

Pairet said decisions regarding the fate of the statue have not been made.

“But I think you will find in the very near future that we will have a public statement available to the community as far as what our intentions are and how we plan on reacting since taking it down,” he said.

He later responded when asked if the statue’s return to the pedestal on High Street was still a possibility or if that would not be something the council would even consider at this point after it went to the trouble of removing it.

“In my personal opinion, I think all options are open,” he said. “Anything’s possible.”

Some people in the community shared concerns that state legislation giving local government’s control of what to do with Confederate monuments does not go into effect until July 1. Pairet explained why the town council acted before July 1.

“It’s my understanding the town did it’s homework as far as the statue is actually legally owned by the Town of Farmville, so consequently it was on town property, so it’s my understanding that we could do as we see fit with it,” he said.