Legal concerns over removing Civil War monuments

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- City Councilor Wes Bellamy's call to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park is sparking a heated debate. Now questions are looming about whether or not the local government even has the right to do it.

"Well, there's some questions because the statute as it's written right now says that localities can erect these monuments, but if they are erected, they can't be disturbed by the locality," said Delegate David Toscano of Virginia's 57th District.

He spoke about some of the gray area when it comes to moving statues or other monuments.

Legally, it's unclear if the Charlottesville City Council even has the power to take down the statue. It's a question that Toscano says will take a long time to answer.

"They have to determine if they have the legal ability to do it, and I'm not clear that they do," he said. "Secondly they have to figure out if it makes sense to do it, and that's going to take a long time."

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently vetoed a bill that tried to prevent local governments from moving Confederate and Civil War monuments.
The bill came up after a legal fight over the city of Danville's removal of a Confederate flag from city-owned land.

Bellamy specifically mentioned this veto when he announced the effort to remove the statue.

However, legal aspects are only part of the issue. Once a decision is made on if the monument can be removed, the Charlottesville City Council must figure out what will replace it and how much it will all cost, as well as where the money would come from.

"There are so many issues involved in this case. They are not aware of the Pandora's Box they are opening up by trying to take on this issue," said Toscano.

According to Toscano, who's also a lawyer, this could be a long battle.

The next step right now is to form a task force to study the issue. Mayor Mike Signer announced that plan on Monday night.

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