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Has Richmond been transparent about Monument Ave? 'We did everything we were supposed to do'

Has Richmond been transparent about Monument Ave? 'We did everything we were supposed to do'
Posted at 6:02 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 18:41:26-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney maintained the city has been transparent in its communication with the public regarding future plans for Monument Avenue.

After CBS 6 reported a shift in leadership of the "Reimagine Monument Avenue" project, Richmonders and some council members expressed confusion about the change. They were under the impression the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was still in charge of initiatives to redesign historical sites where Confederate statues were taken down.

“Maybe if they, the city or anyone, could keep us up to speed with their thoughts, that’d be nice," said Richmond resident Courtney Kazalski.

"It's disappointing. It’s also disappointing it hasn’t been socialized with the community more," another resident, Karen Hill, said.

"We haven't heard anything along those lines. Nothing has come across council's desk," said 9th District Councilman Mike Jones.

“I mean, Tyler, to be honest with you, I didn't even know that, so I appreciate you reaching out," 4th District Councilwoman Kristen Nye said.

As empty pedestals on Monument Avenue have been replaced with gardens and grass, CBS 6 asked Mayor Stoney if the city could've done a better job widely communicating project changes to the community.

"Tyler is asking about changes to the project," Mayor Stoney said during a Thursday press conference. "What changes to the project?"

"The change in leadership of the project," reporter Tyler Layne responded.

"I'm glad you said that," Mayor Stoney said. "There was a paper, an ordinance, that was put forward before City Council that talks about transferring the Lee monument, which was owned by? The Commonwealth of Virginia. We conveyed it to the Black History Museum for disposition. That was all talked about right here in this room that you're in right now."

When former Governor Ralph Northam transferred ownership of the Lee Circle just before Governor Youngkin took office, the city assumed control of the "Reimagine Monument Avenue" project because the VMFA is a state agency that reports to the governor.

Mayor Stoney said the responsibility to inform the public about the VMFA's removal from the efforts should've fallen on the VMFA or the state. As to why council members were unaware, he said it is not his job to do their homework.

“They may have been unaware, but it is not the city's responsibility to do the Commonwealth's job. You get what I'm saying," Mayor Stoney responded.

“Right, but you can tell the residents that the city is taking control of the project," reporter Tyler Layne responded.

"We did right here in this chamber when we said we would lead the reimagining efforts," Stoney said. "I don't know why there wasn't a press release that went on to say the VMFA would not be leading it from the Commonwealth's level, but we always said that we would team up with the Black History Museum to take the next step forward to engage the public, particularly the voices in the neighborhood."

The mayor's office sent out a press release in December 2021 to announce Richmond's removed confederate monuments would be transferred to the Black History Museum which would determine their future. However, it did not note anything about the city taking control of the Reimagine Monument Avenue project from the VMFA.

“The city did everything we were supposed to do," the mayor responded.

Moving forward, Mayor Stoney says the city is still in pre-planning mode and wants to take the time necessary to make sure the project is done right.

“We will engage the community that lives right there on Monument Avenue and the community at large," Mayor Stoney said. "So what I'm asking for is just a little patience.”

The mayor said the next steps could potentially take months but added he cannot put a timeline on it.

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