By MARK SARDELLA
So, it’s settled.
A majority of the Wakefield Town Council gets to define what “Official Town Sentiment” is.
The Council voted earlier this month to give itself the power to determine what constitutes Official Town Sentiment, at least in terms of which flags can be flown from town flagpoles as an expression of such sentiment. (As of now, the American flag is still allowed.)
The impetus for the new policy dates back to April, when the Wakefield Human Rights Commission approached the Town Council about flying the “Pride” and “Juneteenth” flags from various town-owned flagpoles.
A majority of the Town Council thought this was a great idea and asked Town Counsel Thomas Mullen to make the necessary revisions to the town’s Flag Policy so that flags other than Old Glory could be flown from town-owned poles.
Then, the Wakefield Veteran’s Advisory Board got wind of it.
When it comes to the American flag, veterans have a kind of unique standing. Something to do with the fact that so many of them fought and died defending it.
The veterans made it clear that they did not want to see any flags other than the POW-MIA flag on the same pole with the Stars and Stripes.
The Town Council backed off. At its next meeting, the board decided to delay changing the Flag Policy pending a U.S. Supreme Court Decision on a Boston case. In that case, after routinely allowing flags representing various causes, including the Pride flag, to be flown from one of three flag poles outside City Hall, Boston denied a request to fly a “Christian” flag.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which just ruled that since the city of Boston had allowed its flagpoles to be used as a “public forum,” they had to be open to all comers on First Amendment grounds.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court held that a municipality could declare that their flagpoles are not a public forum but strictly an organ of government speech that only flies flags consistent with the sentiments and values of the community. And if people don’t like the flag choices, the Supreme Court said, they can vote their local officials out of office. (Obviously, none of the justices have ever lived in Wakefield, where the Jaws of Life couldn’t get an incumbent out of office.)
That Supreme Court ruling was, in essence, the basis of Wakefield’s new Flag Policy adopted by a 5-1 vote at the Town Council’s June 13 meeting.
As Town Council Chair Mehreen Butt articulated that evening, “This is why we were elected to make these decisions. The body of seven of us can decide and we vote with our decisions and people can vote us out if they don’t agree with what we consider to be an expression of welcoming in our town.”
Translation: Official Town Sentiment is determined by the winners of elections.
Good to know.
A little over a year ago, a symbol won a local election by a vote of 2,911 to 2,337. By a democratic majority, Wakefield residents expressed their sentiment that they wished to keep the Wakefield Warrior logo.
As far as I know, the Warrior logo is the only symbol ever to win a Town Election. This is even better than voters electing Town Councilors who then decide what constitutes town sentiment. This is the townspeople expressing town sentiment directly. No middle man.
So, when can we expect to see the Wakefield Warrior flag displayed on a town flagpole?