Protestors wanting the statue moved and supporters of leaving it in place shouted back and forth and waved signs out front; inside the Gaston County Commissioners talked about the Confederate statue that stands in front of the county courthouse. They didn't make an official decision, but at the Tuesday evening (July 28th) meeting, chairman Tracy Philbeck asked County Attorney Jonathan Sink to talk with the county's legislative delegation about possibly putting a decision on the statue on a future election ballot. It won't be this year--the time for putting things on the ballot in November has already passed. So for now, the statue will stay where it is.
Commissioners took no official vote, but Commissioners Allen Fraley, Chad Brown and Jack Brown voiced their approval for Philbeck's suggestion.
Philbeck defended not making any decision: "Let's ask the state to give us the right to to put it before the people for a vote,” he said. “If we do that, there is not one citizen in Gaston County who could say their voice was not heard.”
That most likely means that for the forseeable future, the statue, placed in front of the old Gaston County Courthouse on South Street in the very early 20th Century to intimidate blacks, will remain where it is.
Commissioner Bob Hovis suggested putting off a decision until the Commissioners' August work session and then discussing the county’s options for relocating the monument or keeping it where it stands.
Sink told Commissioners at a late June meeting that the only reason they could move the statue was to protect it--the statue itself; but at a meeting of the Council of Understanding, a group Philbeck suggested at that June seesion that was chaired by Commissioner Tom Keigher, it was revealed that the county could give the statue to a group like the Sons of the Confederacy or United Daughters of the Confederacy and they could relocate it.
Keigher's Council of Understanding, formed by choosing six people favoring relocation and six wanting to keep the statue where it is, voted 7-5 in its third meeting earlier this month to recommend giving away the statue so it could be relocated. Keigher presented that recommendation to the board Tuesday night. He then spoke in favor of making a decision on the statue: "Let's vote it up or vote it down."
Commissioner Ronnie Worley had spoken in favor of moving the statue prior to the June meeting. He said the statue is costing the county money: "Protecting it and making sure the protesters and counter-protesters don't do more than exchange words has already cost taxpayers more than $50,000." Worley said that could mean the statue represents a risk to public safety.
Hovis said a referendum doesn't settle the matter. The decision, he said, is still the Commissioners to make: "It’s up to us.”
For now, the decision not to make a decision actually becomes one. If the issue is to be put on a ballot, that would require action of the North Carolina General Assembly. Philbeck said if the referendum isn't approved to be held, the Commissioners can revisit the issue, and the next county election after this November isn't until the Primary of 2022.
Readers who would like to see it for themselves can watch a video of Tuesday night's meeting at http://gaston.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php.