Gaston County commissioners will get a report on the county's Confederate monument Tuesday night, at a meeting that's expected to draw a crowd in a time of racial tension.
Feelings were already running high two weeks ago, when a volunteer advisory panel voted 7-5 to remove the Confederate soldier on a pedestal that has stood outside Gaston County’s courthouse since 1912. Some said it’s a tribute to soldiers who fought bravely. Others denounced it as a monument to white supremacy.
Since then, a conflict between a customer and a cashier at Tony’s Ice Cream, not far from the courthouse in downtown Gastonia, flared into accusations of racism. Protests have drawn crowds to stake out different views on the ice cream parlor and the bigger issues it represents.
Tuesday's agenda includes a report from the advisory panel on the future of the monument, but no vote. Commissioners have also agreed to hear 25 two-minute statements from the public, with sign-ups opened at 5 p.m. and closed when those slots fill.
County spokesman Adam Gaub said people who don't make the cut should realize that "the commissioners and county leadership have heard from people on both sides of this debate on a regular basis."
Because of the coronavirus, no one but designated speakers will be allowed into the meeting chamber. There’s socially distanced space inside for about 100 spectators -- and Gaub says he encourages others to stream the meeting from home. But he also acknowledged that the monument is "a really contentious and really closely watched issue," which means crowds may gather outside.
Gaub says the county has talked with the county sheriff's department and Gastonia police about providing security.