LETTER — The way council removed statue was wrong

Published 6:00 am Friday, July 10, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

To The Editor:

In my career, I have worked for the federal government, private nonprofit organizations, and as a banker. In all those positions, I had fiduciary responsibilities to the public. I was accountable to others for my actions, and the decision-making processes were transparent. One thing I learned was that you are often judged not by what you did, but how you did it.

The way the Town of Farmville went about removing the Confederate Heroes statue was wrong on so many levels. Closed meetings by elected officials are reserved for sensitive property or contract negotiations and personnel matters. An open, transparent process shows respect for the citizens and generally engenders more support for final decisions, even when there is disagreement. I believe the Town Council had no legal standing for going into executive session, and they were absolutely wrong in their decision not to video broadcast the meeting. Moreover, it is obvious that their decision to remove the statue was a “fait accompli” as evidenced by the fact that a crane and crew were standing by, and the statue was removed within 30 minutes of their vote. Strike One!

Email newsletter signup

I believe the removal decision was also against the law. The City of Charlottesville had a few years back decided to remove a Confederate statue. That action was ruled to be illegal by the District Court. This prompted the General Assembly to pass a new law this year allowing municipalities to remove statues that they own from municipal property. But, that law requires a 30-day public notification and did not take effect until July 1 of this year. The Town Council took action in June, and there was no 30-day notification. Strike Two!

Notwithstanding any of the arguments about the merits or morality of any statue, as municipal property it is the duty of law enforcement to protect the public and public property. The Farmville Police had already put a response plan in place in case any lawful public demonstrations turned violent or resulted in vandalism. The Farmville Police are more than capable of keeping the citizens and municipal property safe, but the Town Council decreased safety by usurping the police, acting hastily, and drawing even more attention to the statue. Through their hasty and ill-advised action, the Town Council has potentially made us all less safe by making our town a target for vandals and domestic terrorists. Strike Three! You’re out!

Under the circumstances, I believe the Farmville Town Council owes its citizens a public apology, if not for what they did, at least for how they did it.

Paul Hoffman