VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — The lawyer for Virginia’s largest city says a Confederate monument outside an old courthouse cannot be moved.
Virginia Beach’s attorney has given his interpretation of a state law aimed at protecting war memorials. Such laws have spawned an ongoing debate across Virginia over local power to remove Confederate statues and memorials.
Virginia Beach city attorney Mark Stiles says a 1904 law bars war memorials in counties from being disturbed. He said that applies to Virginia Beach because the city originated as a county.
Stiles said his interpretation fits with court opinions on the matter and as well as those of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
The following statement was released by Virginia Beach Deputy City Attorney Roderick R. Ingram:
In an opinion issued last month, Herring said state law allows cities to move war memorials.
The monument in question was erected by Princess Anne County in what was then the public square. Construction began with the laying of the cornerstone in October 1904 and the monument was
completed and dedicated in November 1905. In February, 1904, the General Assembly passed the precursor to the current Virginia Code §15.2-1812. As then written, the statute stated:
Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That the circuit court of any county be, and hereby is empowered, with the concurrence of the board of supervisors of each county entered of record, to authorize and permit the erection of a Confederate monument upon the public square of such county at the county seat thereof. And if the same shall be so erected, it shall not be lawful thereafter for the authorities of said county or any other person or persons whatever, to disturb or interfere with any monument so erected, . . .
It appears to us that the requirements of the statute enacted in 1904 were met in connection with the erection of the monument by Princess Anne County. In Virginia, county governments and city and town governments are distinct entities with different powers and duties as set forth in the Virginia Code and in individual town and city charters. The authority given to counties in 1904 to erect these monuments was not extended to cities until an amendment to the code in 1997. This is the reason that the application of the statute to monuments erected by cities prior to that time is in question. We believe that our conclusion is entirely consistent with the opinion by Attorney General Herring and the other cases that have been decided by the courts to date. We will nonetheless continue to monitor any pending cases and opinions to determine if those cases may impact the legal analysis.