The Palouse mayor wrote a letter to the public Thursday to address a controversy surrounding the city’s flag policy after flags were absent from downtown during Fourth of July weekend.
“As many of you may be aware, the usual flag display along Main Street was absent over this past 4th of July weekend,” Mayor Chris Cook wrote. “As a result, Palouse has witnessed heightened tensions manifesting in ways that will only serve to further divide our great city.”
Kyle Dixon, Palous city administrator, told the Daily News the Palouse Lions Club has been responsible for hanging the American flag, Washington’s state flag and a variety of others downtown during the holiday weekend for years.
When the Lions Club chose not to hang the flags this year, Dixon said, it sparked rumors that the city issued a moratorium on displaying flags downtown.
Cook wrote in his letter that incorrect and threatening comments were made on social media regarding the issue.
“Please know and understand that at no time did the city place a moratorium on flying flags along Main Street for anyone,” Cook wrote. “The city is working diligently to craft a flag policy to continue the great tradition of flying flags on streetlights along Main Street.”
Cook encouraged the public to contact city hall to get accurate information on the matter.
Damon Estes, president of the Palouse Lions Club, said the club chose not to hang flags out of “an abundance of caution” while it waits for the city to adopt a flag policy.
For the past month, city officials have held discussions about implementing a flag policy after the city received 10 to 15 emails from residents concerned about the Palouse Lions Club flying the “Thin Blue Line” flag during holidays.
Estes said the Lions Club began flying the flag five years ago as a way to show support to first responders.
According to Palouse City Council minutes, residents asked for the flag to be removed because in recent years it has been adopted by groups like Blue Lives Matter, a national countermovement to Black Lives Matter.
Estes said the club began flying the flag before it was aware of those movements. He said the Lions Club is a service organization and not a political organization. It was not trying to make a political statement with the flag.
“It was never our intent to support or go against either one of those organizations,” he said.
He said the Lions Club does not want to antagonize anyone in the community.
“Without the support of the community behind us, we can’t serve,” he said.
Estes said he is personally fine with flying a different flag in its place.
Dixon said that as the city works on its flag policy, flags are still allowed to be hung downtown.
According to the June 23 Palouse City Council minutes, city officials met with an attorney to discuss possible rules for flags.
The city could take no action, which would allow anything to be posted or hung at any time by anyone.
It could adopt a policy that applies time, place and manner restrictions. This would create a permitting process that would require preapproval to hang flags and banners at predetermined places and times. The city would not be allowed to regulate content.
Or, it could adopt a policy that only allows city-owned flags and banners on city property.
Dixon said that the city wants to emphasize it is working with the Lions Club on this issue and not against it.
“The city and the Lions Club forever have had a fantastic relationship and we want to continue that,” he said.
Cook in his letter asked for patience from the community.
“Hatred for our neighbors and guests has no place here,” he wrote. “We urge all of you to bear with us as we work through these incredibly sensitive matters and know that we all call Palouse our home in some form and want what is best for this community.”
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at email@example.com.