A Rockville City Council member claims the city’s mayor disregarded a decision by the majority of the council to support moving the Confederate statue away from the city’s Red Brick Courthouse.
Council member Tom Moore said Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton instead sent a letter to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council President George Leventhal last Friday providing no opinion as to whether the county should move the statue.
The 6-foot bronze statue of a Confederate calvary private, dedicated in 1913, sits on county property outside the courthouse. It was moved to its current location in 1971 to make way for a redevelopment project. An inscription on the statue reads, “That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”
Two weeks ago, amid a national debate about removing Confederate memorials and symbols, Leggett said he directed the county’s Department of General Services to move the statue from the spot.
But Rockville historic groups pushed back, saying the statue should remain. The statue was spray-painted with the message “Blacks Live Matter” either late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
The controversy between the five members of the Rockville council, of which the mayor is one, was spurred by a series of emails last Friday.
While the city council plans to debate its formal stance at its Aug. 3 council meeting, Newton told council members Friday that the county needed a response from the city as soon as possible.
Moore said he took the version of a letter drafted by city staff and added the paragraph reading: “The Mayor and Council supports County Executive Leggett’s decision to move the statue. We agree that the statue was and is an attempt to rewrite history. We believe that it is inappropriate for a monument celebrating the Confederate cause to stand on grounds of a courthouse in the City of Rockville.”
Moore said he sent his draft of the letter to all four council colleagues and said that two colleagues—Julie Palakovich Carr and Virginia Onley—responded that they were OK with Moore’s version.
“When three of us want to do something, that’s it,” Moore said.
But around 3 p.m. Friday, Moore said he got another email from Newton containing a version of the letter with no opinion on whether the statue should be moved—one that had apparently been backed by Onley and council member Beryl Feinberg.
“[The mayor] decided to do what she wanted to do,” Moore said. “It was a total end-run around the council.”
Newton and Onley didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Feinberg said she made it clear early on Friday that she didn’t agree with Moore’s version of the letter. She also said the council should wait to present an official opinion on the statue until its Monday meeting.
“We never had a discussion or a vote as to whether the statue should be moved or not,” Feinberg said. “So I don’t believe it was appropriate to send a letter with the opinion of individuals.”
Moore said the council has approved letters that needed to be sent immediately before through email.
On July 20, the council hosted a public forum on what should be done to the statue.
“The mayor totally acted without authority to disregard what the council had decided at 10:30 in the morning,” Moore said. “The whole point of starting this public discussion and engaging us in it was to come to some sort of conclusion and points of advice to the county. The mayor decided on her own that she didn’t want to do any of those things.”
Both versions of the letter did include one key point of advice to the county: That it must go before the city’s Historic District Commission to get permission to remove the statue.
While Feinberg said she agrees the statue should be moved, she also said it shouldn’t simply be placed in storage away from the public. She said the idea of placing it at the Monocacy Cemetery in Beallsville, the resting place for a number of Confederate soldiers, is a solution that appeals to her.
“Clearly, what I don’t want to have happen here is that we try to whitewash and sanitize what was Maryland’s very conflicted role during the Civil War,” Feinberg said. “I would like to see it moved to a site where there is context that explains Maryland’s role.”
Moore said the Rockville Cemetery, one of the suggested locations for the statue, declined to take it.
He also said he’d like to see it removed.
“Preserving history is one aspect of it, but it’s not the only one. That’s why the mayor and council and county executive have to look at everything,” Moore said. “What signal does it send about what kind of community we are?”
City of Rockville letter to County Executive Ike Leggett on Confederate statue
Tom Moore version of City of Rockville letter on Confederate statue