by Jack White, for the VHCA Board
In December of 2014 the Virginia-Highland Civic Association (VHCA) Board was notified that new homeowners had installed a fence that blocked free access to the Todd Cemetery Memorial. (VHCA is no stranger to this topic; the Association was active in promoting the memorials’ creation in the late 80s.) After much effort – including validating the legality of the easement that leads to the monument – we negotiated an agreement with the homeowners: a small sign to be placed on the fence that acknowledged the monument and reminded visitors to be respectful of the residents’ privacy and property.
Shortly thereafter – just before Christmas in 2015 – the Todd Cemetery Memorial was deliberately destroyed.
Since that event, the Board and descendants of the Todd family have tried in a private and quiet manner to negotiate the monument’s rebuilding and secure the public’s access to it. This has included further efforts by our attorney, as well as formal mediation. While those processes have eliminated certain fictions about the how the monument was destroyed and who was responsible, our hope and faith that a solution could be reached without filing a formal lawsuit have vanished.
The board discussed this issue in open session for the first time at the August 2016 board meeting and voted unanimously to file suit in Fulton County Superior Court to compel the monument’s restoration, restore public access to it, and remunerate VHCA for many of its legal costs.
We have spent a lot of time and a lot of money on this issue – about $25,000. The money certainly matters a lot; we all know and appreciate the effort that residents and volunteers in this community put into fundraising. The prospect of recovering some fees in court, understanding that future costs are capped, and offers by citizens to donate specifically toward these expenses mitigates that only a little.
The most visible and obvious motivation was the critical importance of preserving a unique and irreplaceable piece of history, a point that a number of citizens strongly asserted at the board meeting.
The history matters a great deal, but there is an even more important issue here: the rule of law.
In our day-to-day efforts on the Board and on committees, we spend a huge amount of time trying to find acceptable and workable solutions to the application of laws and regulations, often as intermediaries between citizens and government. The principle tactic is negotiation; when those are unsuccessful, asking the court to apply the law is the next step.
The lawsuit is a public record; you can see the complaint that was filed here.
Within the context of this being a matter before the court, we will try to answer as many questions about the facts of the case as we can.
A few articles on the Todd family history for your reference: