By Aila Boyd
A discussion on social justice was held during the July 28 meeting of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors.
In the packet providing background information, the county administrator’s comments on the topic said, “During this time of social unrest, there are various discussions taking place associated with historical markers that, based upon personal views, symbolize many things. For some, the views associated with certain historical names and markers seem to be a painful reminder of the past, present, and the future. For some, the same elements are viewed as history that cannot be erased. Discussions are taking place across the Commonwealth and nation in localities as to how to work through a process that allows the input of public opinion and to realize the sensitivity of the day.”
Gary Larrowe, the county administrator, explained, “This is just to start the discussion as to what ends up taking place.”
The supervisors were informed of the legalities associated with historical markers from Mark Popovich, who filled in for Michael Lockaby as the county’s attorney. He explained some of the recent changes that the Virginia General Assembly passed regarding the potential removal or relocation of historical monuments.
“They set up a process by which local governments can either hear from the people via referendum and/or simply through a public hearing process,” he said. “The referendum process is limited to being done prior to any public hearings. If it is your wish to have a referendum on the issue of potentially removing any Confederate monument within the county, that would have to be your first step. That will require getting the appropriate question on the ballot, working with your electoral board to get that taken care of.”
He went on to note that the board does not have to utilize the referendum option because of the public hearing process. “Even if you do the referendum first, you’d still have to hold a public hearing,” he said. “The question is: do you want someone being able to actually push the button, fill in the circle.”
Popovich explained that the referendum process would likely lead to more input from county citizens because normally only a small portion of the public attend meetings. “This particular issue in this day and age would probably bring a large amount of folks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d capture what you can potentially capture in a full-blown referendum,” he said.
The public hearing option requires that localities place a notice in local newspapers 30 days prior to the meeting, outlining the potential removal or relocation of specific monuments. “Based on that public hearing, you can then decide whether to keep the monument, remove the monument, relocate the monument, store the monument, whatever you wish to do. But prior to that, you have to have another 30 days to actually offer that particular monument for relocation or placement at a museum.”
Popovich stressed, “There’s no right or wrong option. It’s completely up to you to decide.”
Ultimately, Steve Clinton, who represents the Amsterdam District, was established as the head of a committee that is tasked with eventually providing the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation concerning monuments and statements of belief.
Dr. Mac Scothorn noted that it will be important to identify the appropriate groups and individuals to be part of the committee.
“It’s a big job and an important job,” Clinton said of the work that the committee will do. “Botetourt is viewed as a leader. This board, working together, can demonstrate that again.”
A timeline for the work of the group was not established.