Court battle pits city vs. SCV
Legal feud erupts over location of memorial to Confederate dead
Date published: 3/7/2010
By CLINT SCHEMMER
A battle royal has broken out over who controls some of Fredericksburg’s most cherished public space.
Tomorrow the fight moves to Circuit Court, where the city and the local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp will argue whether a new monument to Southern soldiers can stay or must go.
Of course, if the judge throws out the case, the dispute may become known as Fort Fizzle.
But now, the litigants are deadly serious. The SCV’s Matthew Fontaine Maury Camp No. 1722 wants the court to declare that state law bars Fredericksburg from disturbing or removing the Confederate memorial at Barton and George streets.
Fredericksburg contends that the SCV needed permission from the City Council, not merely a city building permit, to erect its monument last year.
The memorial honors 51 soldiers from seven states who died here of disease in 1861 and 1862 before the Battle of Fredericksburg and were buried along Barton Street.
Last September, four months after the Confederate memorial was unveiled in a public ceremony, the council intervened. It designated the grassy triangle near the old Maury School as exclusively for the Fredericksburg Area War Memorial–which honors some 400 local military personnel killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The council called for the Confederate memorial to be relocated.
But the SCV’s Maury Camp "absolutely" believes it had the city’s permission to install its monument, said Patrick McSweeney, the group’s Richmond lawyer.
Not so, countered City Attorney Kathleen Dooley.
"No city official could have [approved the marker] and usurped the council’s own discretion," she said in an interview Friday.
The city is asking the court, which is scheduled to hear the case tomorrow, to dismiss the lawsuit.
McSweeney said the SCV undertook its project, several years in the making, with the knowledge and support of top city officials.
According to its lawsuit:
Senior Planner Erik Nelson pitched the idea to the city Economic Development Authority in November 2008.
In addition to the EDA, Nelson worked with the city manager and Councilman Matthew Kelly to respond to the Maury Camp’s proposal for the monument.
The city established the location for it in December 2008.
The SCV, which paid for the monument and its installation, invited all members of the City Council to the dedication. The city closed adjacent streets for the ceremony.
Zoning Administrator Raymond Ocel Jr. and a building-code official issued a permit for the "Confederate war memorial" on Jan. 15, 2009.
But, Dooley said, the code official judged only whether the monument’s foundation plan complied with the building code.
"He didn’t look past that," she said. "He took it at face value."
In contrast, when the Fredericksburg Area Veterans Council undertook to create its memorial, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the City Council that defined each party’s responsibilities for the project, Dooley said.
Still, the SCV camp disagrees with the idea that council members had sole authority to approve the Confederate monument, McSweeney said.
City staff has signed off on war-related monuments in other cases–including the Irish Brigade memorial at City Dock and a United Daughters of the Confederacy marker about an encampment of troops in the Spanish-American War, he said.
"These matters have never been treated that way in the past," McSweeney said. "You can imagine if any encumbrance or encroachment had to go to the City Council for formal approval."
Regardless of its other allegations, the Maury Camp isn’t entitled to legal relief because its monument isn’t protected by Virginia statute, Dooley said.
Its marker is not a war memorial as defined by state law, she argues in the city’s reply to the lawsuit.
McSweeney harrumphed at that claim.
He said the SCV’s memorial is just like other tributes to Confederate dead across the South and to Civil War veterans at county courthouses across Virginia, and the monuments in Richmond to Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart and others.
"By the city of Fredericksburg’s definition, these monuments would not be covered by state statute," McSweeney said. "But no one would seriously argue that they are not war memorials."
Dedicated on April 18, the SCV’s 3-foot-high granite-and-bronze memorial shares space with the Fredericksburg Area War Memorial. The latter, much larger, memorial was dedicated Sept. 13, 2008.
Copyright 2010, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co.
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