The Leesburg Town Council still does not appear to be ready to move forward with discussing an artistic expression of the Black Lives Matter movement somewhere in town. But that could change when three new members take their seats Jan. 1.
The council again explored the issue during its Monday night work session, after initially discussing the idea of Black Lives Matter lettering being painted on a town street in September.
Councilman Neil Steinberg requested the item be brought up again and suggested that the item could be referred to the Commission on Public Art for consideration of possible guidelines or regulations in considering such an installation.
As they did when the debate first came up in September, council members appeared split on whether such messaging would be considered art or speech. Several Black Lives Matter street paintings have cropped up in metropolitan cities throughout the country since late May, following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, MN, that set off a wave of protests throughout the country over racial injustice and police brutality.
“If we do this, we’ve gotta understand that we can’t discriminate on the messaging. As soon as we as a town sanction this the First Amendment will apply and we will lose control of messages that will or won’t be allowable. We have to support all speech in this way. I don’t know if that’s a box we want to open. I see that as kind of a headache for the town, because I think it could cause some strife,” Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said.
Councilman Ron Campbell said he did not support the item going to COPA because it does not consider it to be art. Vice Mayor Marty Martinez concurred, and suggested a joint discussion between COPA and the town’s Diversity Commission may be a better avenue.
When the council first discussed the matter in September, Renee LaFollette, director of the town’s Public Works and Capital Projects Department, said there is not a process in place for considering things like painting murals or statements on roadways.
It doesn’t appear there will be one anytime soon.
Fox initially made a motion to have a future council discussion on drawing up such a regulatory process, but withdrew it prior to a vote. Steinberg did not find support for placing the topic back on a council agenda after Jan. 1, when the new council takes office. Martinez asked that he consider bringing it up again in the New Year.