Putting flags in their place

Facing a chamber filled with grizzled veterans waving small American flags, the Chico City Council on Tuesday came up with a policy on flying flags from city light poles.

As Cindy Pierce, the city’s administrative services director, explained, it’s expensive to install and take down the flags. Historically the city has provided that service three times a year, around patriotic holidays, for the City of Flags group, which owns 379 American flags.

But if the city allows one group to fly flags, it’s obliged, under the First Amendment, to allow other groups to fly their flags—which it has done in the case of the Earth Day flags in April. But it lacked a clear policy on the issue.

A number of veterans got up to speak to the matter. The clear star of the group was Lt. Col. Boardman C. Reed, who’d been a bomb squadron commander over Germany in WWII and said he’d be 95 years old next month. Holding up a tri-folded flag in a glass case, he told a story about finding it on a base in South Korea in 1951, and how he’d struck the U.N. flag then flying over the base and “run up Old Glory.”

“I ask you,” he said, his voice rising, “to fly only the American flag and none other.” He got a round of applause.

In the end, the council agreed unanimously to take ownership of the American flags and install them at no charge.

In a separate action, however, the council approved, 5-2, a motion to allow other groups to fly flags as long as they paid the costs. Councilmen Steve Bertagna and Larry Wahl, who agreed with Lt. Col. Reed, dissented.