LEXINGTON, N.C. — There have been more than 70 days of protests, a dozen arrests and now a lawsuit as the debate over moving a Confederate monument in Lexington continues.
"The city council has given the city attorney direct authority to take legal action to remove and relocate a threat to our city's safety and welfare," Lexington Mayor Newell Clark said.
In a press conference Thursday, Clark said the city tried all of its options to come to a solution with Davidson County officials since protests began over the monument in June.
The statue is a prominent part of Uptown Lexington but sits in a square owned by the county.
City council members passed a resolution last month requesting County Commissioners relocate the statue. The request was denied last week.
City officials see court action as the only way to determine the monument's future.
"We are asking for a simple relocation of a statue that doesn't stand for our values as a city in the 21st century," Clark said.
Davidson County officials responded with the following statement:
"The Lexington City Council has demanded that Davidson County remove the memorial on the old courthouse square to the Davidson County men who died in the Civil War. The law in North Carolina is clear: a monument or memorial on public property is protected and may not be removed or relocated. There are very limited circumstances that provide for an exception to the prohibition on removal. None of those exceptions apply to the memorial that the City Council seeks to have removed. The justification given by the City Council for removal, that the memorial is a threat to public safety due to recent protests, does not meet any of the limited exceptions provided in the law. Davidson County, through its officials and professional staff, have repeatedly advised the City of the County’s obligation under law to protect all memorials on County property. Davidson County has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit filed by the City Council. Once it is received the Office of the County Attorney will review the lawsuit and file an appropriate response. It is unfortunate that the City Council, particularly in the midst of our community struggling to address challenges created by the pandemic, has chosen to spend staff time and taxpayer dollars to bring this lawsuit."
Lexington City Manager Terra Greene told WFMY News 2 that the city's attorney disagrees with the county's interpretation of a 2015 state law that protects Confederate monuments.
The city declared the statue a nuisance under its city code and gave the county 15 days to comply by taking action on the statue. Since the county did not meet that deadline the city argues a relocation would not violate the law.
This comes as protests continue regularly over the statue with protesters and counter-protesters voicing their concerns.
The statue has been here for over a hundred years and now all of a sudden it's an issue," Davidson County resident Glenn Pourcho said.
"We've lived under this statue for years so it's about time that we did something about it," Lexington resident Gloria Cross said.
Lexington's Mayor said declaring the statue a nuisance came as a result of those protests.
He cites more than 70 days of protests at the monument that have led to 12 arrests.
The city's police department has taken the lead on monitoring those demonstrations.
"We're an agency of 62 officers, so putting 13 officers just dedicated to that small block area is a tremendous burden and we're making sacrifices all over the city to do that," Lexington Police Chief Mark Sink said.
Clark said the county commission chair reached out to him last night asking to meet about the statue next week.
Now that the matter is going to court, Clark said the city is checking with its attorney about whether meeting with commissioners is an option at this point.
Davidson County said it is still waiting to receive the lawsuit filed by the city.