The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is supporting legislation to give Virginia localities authority over war monuments and memorials.
The board passed the measure with a 7-2 vote Tuesday during its first business meeting of the year. Supervisors Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Caleb Kershner (R- Catoctin) opposed the motion made by Vice Chairman Koran Saines (D-Sterling).
"To me this is simple: People in Richmond should not be making decisions on what localities do regarding monuments, memorials and properties owned by localities,” Saines said. “It's our property. We and our constituents live with them daily, and we as local leaders should have the ability to respond to our constituents to make changes where we feel necessary when it comes to monuments and memorials on our county-owned property.”
Localities are prohibited from "disturbing or interfering with" war monuments or memorials, according to Virginia Code 15.2-1812. Lawmakers in Richmond are considering amending state code to let local governing bodies decide if they want to remove such monuments.
Supervisor Kershner said he fears if monuments are removed people will forget the country’s history and past generations' struggles.
Kershner said, “Certainly things that are highly offensive should not be something that we tolerate in any way either as a state or as a county, and I would certainly support those sorts of things, but when it comes to history — and I think the Heritage Commission has done a very good job in describing how we can go about putting up various statutes and various memorials to memorialize different aspects of our history — I think it's important for children to know those aspects of history, and it is incumbent upon teachers and those of us who lead and guide them to help them understand all the flaws any man or any woman or any particular movement.”
Broad Run Supervisor Sylvia Glass (D) and Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) disagreed. Sharing remarks on how her family fought against segregation, Glass said the monuments make her feel as though her family isn't a part of local history.
“If we all decide that we don't want those monuments, then we should have the opportunity to say they shouldn't be here,” Glass said.
Randall added, “We remember history where history should be remembered — museums, classrooms — but a statue is a glorification of something, and the idea that you take it down or else you forget it, I do not think anyone's going to forget slavery or the Confederacy because Confederate statues come down."
Elsewhere on the board's legislative agenda, supervisors moved on a party-line vote to support legislation that authorizes the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver privilege cards to applicants that may not meet current license, permit or identification card requirements.
Dulles Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R) spoke out against the driver privilege cards, saying it's a “workaround” for the federal government and a way to “ignore the problem” of illegal immigration.
“I would prefer a comprehensive approach to this issue that actually addresses the problem, and to me, this is just sort of a Band Aid,” Letourneau said. “I would not argue in this case that it isn't relevant to us. I think it is. So that wouldn't be my argument here. I would argue, though, it is probably not the best place for us to be putting our legislative resources.”
The board then voted 9-0 to support legislation that provides counties with equal taxing authority for cigarette taxes, transient occupancy taxes and admission taxes as provided to cities.
Supervisors also unanimously supported HB 523 and similar legislation that would better position the county to address toll rate examinations on the Dulles Greenway. HB 523 is being introduced by Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-87th).
The board also voted 8-1 to oppose House Bill 296 and similar legislation that would allow a town with more then 50,000 people to seek city status. Leesburg Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D) voted in favor of the motion, while state Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th) is introducing the related legislation.
With well more than 50,000 residents, Leesburg is the commonwealth's largest town and has expressed interest in the past in becoming a city.
Additionally, the board voted unanimously in favor of seeking legislation that allows a presiding officer discretion to be called “chairman,” “chairwoman,” “chair,” “chairperson” or “chair at-large.” Currently, it’s against the law in Virginia to refer to a female head of a governing body as anything other than chairman or mayor.
The initiative failed last year when five men—Republican Dels. Keith Hodges, Riley Ingram, Joseph McNamara, Charles Poindexter and Christopher Stolle—voted against more inclusive titles.
Randall said she feels confident the bill will pass this year. Dels. Ingram retired after 12 terms and Stolle lost his re-election contest.
The Loudoun board is also supporting the push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. “The Equal Rights Amendment will deal with pay equity, domestic violence laws ... pregnancy discrimination, paternity and maternity leave issues and equal access to health care. So, as you might imagine, I feel very strongly about this,” new Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) said after making the motion.