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Floyd County Confederate monument referendum issue remains undecided

Floyd County Confederate monument referendum issue remains undecided

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FLOYD — Whether voters will decide the fate of Floyd County’s courthouse Confederate monument remains in question.

After another meeting and more remarks by residents, the county board of supervisors took no action Tuesday night. The board has another meeting scheduled for Aug. 11. That’s three days before the deadline to put the matter on the November ballot.

After facing criticism following a meeting earlier this month, held at the County Administrative Building and with limited in-person attendance capacity, the board announced it would move Tuesday’s meeting to the Floyd County High School auditorium to allow more people to attend and offer comments.

About 25 people filed into the auditorium prior to the meeting’s 7 p.m. start, with approximately half wearing masks or making obvious efforts to socially distance. All five supervisors, for the first time since the pandemic began, wore face masks throughout the meeting.

About two dozen people spoke on whether to remove the circa-1904 Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn. The board also has the authority to act unilaterally on the issue, and to make a decision about the fate of the monument by a majority vote among the five supervisors.

The first five speakers joined the meeting via phone, which the board is allowing during this state of emergency precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. The first seven speakers all favored removing the monument or relocating it to a more appropriate place, before the meeting shifted to a long string of people who spoke in favor of preserving the monument.

Those speaking in favor of moving the monument described a new era in Floyd County where diversity is honored and Black residents can feel welcome. They said this type of environment is precluded by keeping the monument in front of the courthouse. Most favored unilateral action by the board to remove the monument, arguing that supervisors were elected to be moral leaders, not defer to popular opinion by way of a referendum.

Those advocating keeping the monument in place spoke of their heritage in Floyd County and many who had ancestors that served in the Confederacy. Others worried that removing the monument was akin to erasing history. Several made claims connecting the Black Lives Matter organization to communist and Marxist causes.

Bob Smith, the chairman of the Floyd County Electoral Board, attended the meeting. Two weeks ago, the Electoral Board wrote a letter to the supervisors discouraging them from placing the question of whether to remove the monument on November’s ballot, citing concerns about voter intimidation.

Smith thanked the supervisors for their offer of additional resources to make the election safe, and then, on his own behalf, advocated the opposite position of the letter he co-signed. He supported the referendum, saying the county deserved a “numerical, empirical reflection of views.”

Jeff Dowd, who organized a citizen militia that demonstrated at a county park last winter, was the only person who spoke during public comment on a topic other than the Confederate monument. He offered the supervisors an ordinance, which he said was written in consultation with Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom, to officially recognize the militia. Many members of the audience at Tuesday’s meeting were sporting “Floyd Militia” hats.

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