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Gaston Co. Commissioners want referendum to decide future of Confederate monument

The people of Gaston County could vote to decide the fate of a confederate monument that sits outside the county courthouse. If not, there's a backup plan.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Residents of Gaston County could soon have the power to decide if the confederate monument that sits outside the county courthouse should be relocated. 

There was no official vote on the fate of the monument on Tuesday night. 

However, four of the seven county commissioners gave the county attorney the direction to write state legislators to ask that the issue be put to a referendum.

"I would love to see everybody have a vote," said Commissioner Allen Fraley. 

"Put it before the people for a vote," said Chairman Tracy Philbeck as he agreed. "If we do that, there is not one citizen in Gaston County that can say that  their voice wasn't heard."

Some commissioners opposed that idea and felt it was their elected responsibility to make the decision.

"I should be involved directly with making that decision whether I like it or not," said Commissioner Tom Keigher, who was also the chairman of the Council of Understanding which ultimately voted 7-5 to recommend the relocation of the monument. 

"We kicked the can last time, we need to act on it, we need to do something about it," added Commissioner Ronnie Worley. 

The path forward came after an hour of public comment. Some citizens wanted the monument to stay, while others wanted it to be removed.

Protesters on both sides of the issue chanted outside as they surrounded the monument from a distance. Deputies kept the peace by not allowing any protesters to get too close to the monument. 

The city attorney said, legally, the statue can be moved, but state law isn't clear on the reasons for relocating it. The law is broad, according to the county attorney and some commissioners want lawmakers to review the portion of the law and make necessary changes or clarifications. 

"If there's anything in the law, that needs to be changed, to look at that as well," Philbeck added.

If state leaders decide not to allow the county to put the debate on the ballot in an upcoming election, Chairman Philbeck says at that time, the county board will take matters into their own hands and vote on whether this statue stays.


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