Heated Village Board Meeting on Flag Ordinance for Arlington Heights
The Village Board of Arlington Heights on Tuesday, July 6, 2021 approved 5-3 new, written rules restricting permission to four flags that can be flown on property owned, leased or controlled by village government.
The official flags of the United States of America, the State of Illinois, the Village of Arlington Heights, and the National League of Families POW/MIA flag are approved in the new ordinance.
A previous vote, also Tuesday night, to amend the ordinance, which was proposed by Trustee Nicolle Grasse, failed by a 4-4 vote. The amended ordinance proposed by Trustee Nicolle Grasse would have allowed the village board to vote to fly any other flags that have been recognized and flown by the federal and state governments, including the Pride flag or rainbow flag. The Pride flag first flew over the East Wing of the US Capitol in recognition of “Pride Month” in 2019.
Trustees that voted to support Grasse’s proposal to amend the ordinance were Rich Baldino, Mary Beth Canty, Robin LaBedz, and Nicolle Grasse. Mayor Tom Hayes and Trustee Jim Tinaglia, Trustee John Scaletta and Trustee Jim Bertucci voted against Grasse’s proposal. Trustee Tom Schwingbeck, who proposed the village board’s Pride Month proclamation in May 2021, was absent from the meeting Tuesday night.
After the vote that stopped Grasse’s proposed amendment, Trustee Rich Baldino supported the new ordinance that limits the flag display to the the United States of America, the State of Illinois, the Village of Arlington Heights, and the National League of Families POW/MIA flag.
In the final 5-3 vote that approved the flag-limiting ordinance, Mayor Tom Hayes, Trustee Jim Tinaglia, Trustee John Scaletta, Trustee Jim Bertucci, and Trustee Rich Baldino approved; and Trustee Nicolle Grasse, Trustee Mary Beth Canty and Trustee Robin LaBedz disapproved.
As is common in the modern polarized community, there were strong opinions on each side of the decision. In this case, one side perceived a brilliant simple ordinance that was all-inclusive to residents and prevented divisiveness and potential legal liability. The other side accused village authorities of “covering their asses”; failing to support excluded people; failing to support endangered marginalized people, prohibiting free speech, taking a step backwards from the village goal of diversity, equity and inclusion; and failing to provide emotional support for marginalized people. Those opposing the amendment were skeptical of the timing of the introduction of proposed amendment immediately after there was a request to fly the Pride flag at Village Hall.
Mayor Thomas Hayes acknowledged the new written flag policy — that codifies unwritten village practice — was precipitated by recent discussions in neighboring towns about whether to fly the flags in support of the LGBTQ community on municipal flagpoles. The ordinance, Hayes said, is a way to handle all other requests to fly flags on the poles in front of village hall.
“Local government flagpoles should be limited to flying flags that all of its residents can support. A municipality shouldn’t promote ‘political or social’ content there.
— Mayor Thomas Hayes
Trustee Robin LaBedz expressed that ideally the US flag represents everyone but that isn’t always the case.
“One thing I’d like to say about the American flag is that it’s not always been seen and observed in an inclusive manner. It’s been used over the decades in negative and divisive manners.”
— Robin LaBedz
Since the ordinance was proposed after a request to fly the Pride flag, Trustee Mary Beth Canty called the ordinance an “overreaction.” She accused the board of drawing the ordinance in a direct response to prohibit the Pride flag. She inquired about the number of flag requests to Village Manager Randy Recklaus, who said the request for the “Pride Flag” or “Rainbow Flag” was the first request he could recall to fly a flag. Canty stated she did not think that the ordinance was necessary.
Trustee Canty also took her time on the floor of the flag ordinance discussion as an opportunity to criticize the Pride Proclamation Month declaration process in the Village of Arlington Heights government. Canty said, “Yes, we issued a pride proclamation. But that was a hard fought proclamation. It did not sail through this board with an unanimous ‘right off the bat’ agreement. There was a lot of discussion, and it was sometimes hard to be part of … I say that as a member of this sitting board.” Mayor Hayes replied that the board was unanimous — “it was exactly that.” Canty stated to Mayor Thomas Hayes “you came out of the gate when it was proposed, and said that you did not agree with it.” Canty added, “So I appreciate you changing your tone on that, but I do want the record to be clear.”
Mayor Thomas Hayes responded to Canty, saying, “The record is clear, Trustee Canty in terms of my public statements on this, and my public actions … and I don’t need you to defame my character in this manner, because it is not correct. You have inaccurately stated the facts.” Canty replied, “I respectfully disagree.”
Trustee Mary Beth Canty personified the US flag with hyperbole. Canty, who is biracial, said her family, which is filled with veterans, proudly flies the American flag. “However, they would also agree the flag of our country — that we fly very proudly — at one time in our history said I was three-fifths of a person, and my family was three-fifths of a person,” said Canty. “Until recently, that flag also stated my brother could not marry the man he loved. Canty said, “times change, and it is important we as a welcoming village — one that talks about being welcome — actually take the time to show that we are welcome, instead of just saying it.”
The hyperbole was in stark contrast to US flag tradition and actual history. The US flag symbolizes the general concept of Union overcoming conflict; and makes no “statements” endorsing any details of underlying political conflict.
The US Flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes of red alternating with white that represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows represent the 50 states on a blue rectangle (canton) known as the “union”.
As the US Flag symbolizes union following Declaration of Independence of 13 colonies, the US Flag in its 28 designs through history has never symbolized an endorsement of the Three-fifths Compromise, which was repealed and superseded in 1868 following the Civil War. At the start of the Civil War, pro-slavery South Carolina Militia artillery fired from shore on the Union garrison of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Union, with its supply line cut off, surrendered the following day. Union Commander Major Robert Anderson took the US Flag with its stars representing 33 states with him and evacuated South Carolina — the first state to secede from the federal Union on December 20, 1860.
Prior to the Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865), the US flag was rarely displayed outside of military forts, government buildings and ships. During the American War of Independence and the War of 1812, the US Army was not officially sanctioned to carry the US flag into battle. During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) the US flag was allowed in military camps, but was not allowed to be carried into battle.
Even in the colonial era, not all leaders were advocates of slavery.
The conflict at Fort Sumter in April 1861 was a catalyst for the north to adopt the US Flag as a symbol of national identity and the symbol for the Union — free Northern states opposing southern slave states. In contrast, the pro-slavery Confederacy’s first official national flag known as Stars and Bars, was displayed from March 4, 1861, to May 1, 1863. The initial Confederate Flag (1861–1863) was controversial because many hated its resemblance to the “Yankee Flag” of the United States. The more popular Civil War era Confederate Flags were the second and third versions of the red Confederate Flag with the blue Southern Cross, also known as the Dixie flag and rebel flag. The more recognizable Confederate flags or “Dixie flags” have recently been scorned as symbols of racism by a significant percentage of United States citizens polled, and have met the fate of cancellation.
Hayes mentioned that an ordinance such as one recently approved by The Village of Buffalo Grove that allows special flags supporting social justice initiatives converts public property from a non-public forum to a public forum that could invite litigation by any group that might be denied access by Buffalo Grove public officials. Hayes said the Buffalo Grove policy “does the very thing our long-standing policy and the July 6, 2021 proposed ordinance is designed to prevent.
National POW/MIA Flag Act
Public Law 116 – 67
POW/MIA flag be displayed on all days that the flag of the United States is displayed on certain Federal property.
Date Approved: November 7, 2019
An activism alert from the League of Women Voters prior to the July 6, 2021 Village Board Meeting described the ordinance limiting flags as “exclusionary in nature” that “goes against the Village’s stated goals of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and is being put forward without reasonable opportunity for residents to express their views.”
Hayes responded to the statement anticipated by the League of Woman Voters ahead of their presentation in public forum, arguing that the proposed ordinance is the most all-inclusive possible because it allows only those flags that all residents can support. Hayes mentioned that some flags that could be approved may be inclusive for some, but exclusive for others.
We don’t need special flags to make statements about and celebrate our diversity, equity and inclusivity because there is already one symbol that encompasses and observes our individual diversity — that’s the the Stars and Stripes.
— Mayor Thomas Hayes
Trustee John Scaletta mentioned that residents suggested consideration to decide the appropriate Pride flag among three different Pride flags. Subsequently, Scaletta researched the Pride flag and discovered there are more than 30 versions of Pride flags that could make village board deliberations even more difficult. Scaletta said “our jobs as trustees” is to provide safety and well-being for the residents of Arlington Heights, apparently indicating that spending time and energy on potentially divisive issues is time and energy lost on decisions regarding safety and well-being.
“I am not going to vote to start spending money arguing and debating over whose flag can go on any one of our poles anywhere. I think it’s absurd.”
— Trustee Jim Tinaglia
A majority of public speakers during the board meeting opposed the new ordinance, while a minority present at the board meeting were in favor of the approved ordinance. Those in the majority favored an official government action showing of support of the marginalized group represented by the Pride flag
Blue Card/Public Forum
“Ultimately inclusion is a wonderful thing, but constantly dividing people into groups and identities ironically causes the very division that it ostensibly attempts to alleviate.”
— Steven Ryder
Blue Card/Public Forum
“The reason you have flags flying over the village building is (because) it’s a visual expression of who has jurisdiction in this community. That would be the Village of Arlington Heights, the State of Illinois, the United States of America. When you start putting other flags for other reasons on those flag poles, you’re diluting the value of the three flags that we recognize as having jurisdiction over us.”
— Sue Hayes
There was vocal opposition from the audience when Mayor Thomas Hayes said, “This was not a referendum on the Pride flag. This was a decision based on a bigger picture — based on requests that will be coming down the road — and we need to have a policy in place that’s more than an unwritten policy.”
“This was not a referendum on the Pride flag. It was not. It was not. It was not. This was a decision based on the bigger picture of requests that will be coming down the road.”
— Thomas Hayes
Like Trustee Canti, critics of the new ordinance asked what other requests there have been or will be for additional flags — emphasizing their skepticism that the board’s final decision was motivated by anti-LGBT hate or fear. The League of Women Voters Activism Alert regarding the new Arlington Heights ordinance indicated that “(T)he State of Illinois has also flown both the Pride flag and the Juneteenth flag over the State Capitol and plans to continue to do so in coming years.” The alert added, “Additionally, Buffalo Grove is considering an ordinance that will allow residents to request special flags to be flown at Village buildings, subject to approval by the Village Board of Trustees.”
Motion to Amend Ordinance FAILED
Yes Amend Votes …
Mary Beth Canty
No, Don’t Amend Votes
Mayor Tom Hayes
Trustee Jim Tinaglia
Trustee John Scaletta
Trustee Jim Bertucci
Trustee Tom Schwingbeck
Vote for New Ordinance APPROVED that limits flag display to the United States of America, the State of Illinois, the Village of Arlington Heights, and the National League of Families POW/MIA flag
Mayor Tom Hayes
Trustee Jim Tinaglia
Trustee John Scaletta
Trustee Jim Bertucci
Trustee Rich Baldino
Trustee Nicolle Grasse
Trustee Mary Beth Canty
Trustee Robin LaBedz
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WHEREAS, the Village of Arlington Heights is a home rule municipal corporation in accordance with Article VII, Section 6(a) of the Constitution of the State of Illinois of 1970; and
WHEREAS, the Village has the authority to adopt ordinances and to promulgate rules and regulations that pertain to its government and affairs; and
WHEREAS, the current practice of the Village is to limit the display of flags on property owned, leased, or controlled by the Village to the display of the official flags of the United States of America, the State of Illinois, the Village, and the National League of Families POW/MIA flag; and
WHEREAS, the President and Board of Trustees desire to adopt a policy to memorialize the Village’s current practice concerning the display of flags, as set forth in Exhibit A to this Ordinance (“Village Flag Display Policy”); and
WHEREAS, the President and Board of Trustees have determined that it will serve and be in the best interests of the Village and its residents to adopt the Village Flag Display Policy pursuant to this Ordinance;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT ORDAINED BY THE PRESIDENT AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE VILLAGE OF ARLINGTON HEIGHTS:
SECTION 1. RECITALS. The facts and statements contained in the preamble to this Ordinance are found to be true and correct and are hereby adopted as part of this Ordinance.
SECTION 2. ADOPTION OF FLAG DISPLAY POLICY. The Board of Trustees hereby adopts the Village Flag Display Policy, as set forth in Exhibit A to this Ordinance.
SECTION 3. SEVERABILITY. If any provision of this Ordinance or part thereof is held invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, the remaining provisions of this Ordinance are to remain in full force and effect, and are to be interpreted, applied, and enforced so as to achieve, as near as may be, the purpose and intent of this Ordinance to the greatest extent permitted by applicable law.
SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE. This Ordinance will be in full force and effect from and after its passage, approval, and publication in the manner provided by law.
FLAG DISPLAY POLICY
The following flags are the only flags authorized to be flown or otherwise displayed on or over Village-owned, -leased, or otherwise -controlled buildings and property:
1. The official flag of the United States of America;
2. The official flag of the State of Illinois;
3. The official flag of the Village of Arlington Heights; and
4. The official National League of Families POW/MIA flag.