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Civil War-era monument debate continues

Civil War monuments are making news around Virginia, and Fluvanna County is no exception.

At a meeting Wednesday afternoon (May 3), the Board of Supervisors resumed its conversation on where to put the forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation Monument. Still no consensus was found between those backing two leading locations: Civil War Park and Pleasant Grove Park.

Vice Chair Mozell Booker, the Board’s only African American member, has spoken repeatedly in favor of placing the monument in Civil War Park, which houses a monument to Confederate soldiers and until recently was named Confederate Park.

Chairman Mike Sheridan, by contrast, has frequently called for placing the monument at Pleasant Grove Park where, he said, it would receive maximum visibility.

Burt Marks, a recent graduate of the Fluvanna Leadership Development Program (FLDP), revived the subject when he presented his group’s project on suggested improvements to Civil War Park and other spots in historic Palmyra.

“Our group supports putting the Emancipation Proclamation Monument in Civil War Park,” Marks said.

When Supervisor Tony O’Brien asked Marks to explain his reasoning, Marks paused briefly.

“It is the Civil War Park,” he said after a moment. “It is no longer the Confederate Park. The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the major outcomes – perhaps the major outcome – of the Civil War.”

“I think if you have it at Pleasant Grove farm, thousands of people will see it there,” said Sheridan. He said he supports placing the monument at the base of the new flagpole at the park, so that “everyone driving in sees it.”

County Attorney Fred Payne called attention to the current legal battle over the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. Payne has previously warned that placing the Emancipation Proclamation Monument in Civil War Park may flout state code if the action is perceived as disturbing or interfering with an existing Confederate monument or memorial.

The decisions in that case are being made by Judge Richard Moore, who often presides in Fluvanna. “His decisions are likely to be very important” and relevant to Fluvanna’s dilemma, Payne said.

Booker has sought to address those concerns by asking for an attorney general opinion. Though she contacted Del. Lee Ware (R-65th District) in November for assistance, she said, she has not yet been able to connect with him. Supervisors agreed to her request to submit a letter on behalf of the Board that would formally seek an attorney general opinion.

Accessibility and safety

Marks’ FLDP group studied Civil War Park in an effort to make it accessible to people with disabilities.

Group members proposed improving a walkway that currently contains a step so as to make the path smooth for wheelchairs. They also want to place an accessible picnic table in the park.

They estimate the project will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 but said the Fluvanna Historical Society and an interested Eagle Scout can raise most of the money if the county contributes $1,000 in “seed money.”

Historic courthouse

Word had apparently spread that the county planned to install railings on the historic courthouse steps. Though this was later shown to be untrue, two Fluvanna residents addressed supervisors on the importance of keeping the historic courthouse authentic.

The 1830 courthouse functioned as a hospital for injured Confederate and Union soldiers, said Betty McGehee. She then read supervisors a letter written by her mother, Minnie Lee McGehee.

“The building is a wonderful example of the distinctive architecture of its time, and students from all over come here to study it,” she read. “Railings would compromise its significance, and since the handicapped ramp was added when court was still held there, any benefit they might have would not be worth a further devaluation of this historical and inspiring treasure.”

Judy Mickelson, past director of the historical society, said that she has brought many architects and graduate students to the courthouse. “Fluvanna Courthouse is the one that is written about, that is spoken about, that is visited, as the single most beautiful unadulterated courthouse in Virginia,” she said. “Once you start changing the original view of the courthouse...it really demeans the importance of this place.”

Wayne Stephens, director of public works, said that there was never a proposal to put railings on the courthouse steps. “Someone made a suggestion…but that’s not the same thing as a proposal,” he said after the meeting.

Supervisors directed staff to pursue putting up a sign indicating that an accessible entrance to the courthouse is available on the side of the building. They also want to place historically accurate benches to block visitors from falling off either side of the courthouse porch, and to improve lighting on the lower set of steps that lead up to the courthouse.

Supervisor salary increase

Supervisors voted down a proposal to increase their pay.

County Administrator Steve Nichols studied 22 counties that surround Fluvanna or are of comparable size, and found that supervisors make less than average. Supervisor salaries haven’t increased since at least 2008, he said. By contrast, other boards and commissions have updated their pay in the past two to three years.

He recommended bumping a Board member’s salary from $7,800 to $9,000 per year. The vice chair’s pay would increase from $8,400 to $9,600 annually, and the chair would move from $9,000 to $10,200 per year.

“I can’t vote in favor of this. I feel that our economy has not recovered,” said Supervisor Trish Eager. “Many of our people are struggling and they do not have the money.”

Supervisor Don Weaver agreed. “I think things are tight in the county and I think it would be a good idea if we just skip this and let people know that we are concerned about where they are economically,” he said.

“Constantly we’re behind and behind, and we’re just catching up to where other counties are paying their supervisors,” countered Booker. “I think it’s a very reasonable amount. A lot of people think we’re making a whole lot of money. We are not.”

A motion to keep supervisor pay at current levels passed 4-1 (Booker dissenting).

“It seems to be this noble thing, not to take a raise,” Booker said after the meeting. “I said yes because I wanted the raise and I’m not ashamed of the fact that I do want it, because it gives me more money so I can do more things for other people… I have two families that I help. I probably wouldn’t have gotten more than $70 [per month after taxes] but that $70 would have helped the young lady that I help.

“Don’t turn down the raises. It isn’t that much,” Booker continued. “Take the money and give it so it will help somebody. You could give it to the fire and rescue squad or to a charity. Then you’re not just talking about what people need, you’re also helping.”