Clearwater's American flags spared for now

08/03/09 Seán Kinane
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The news of the demise of Clearwater’s American flags has been greatly exaggerated. In a workshop this morning, City Council put to rest newspaper rumors that “The city of Clearwater can no longer afford to fly the American flag.”

On Saturday, the St. Petersburg Times reported that 13 of Clearwater’s flagpoles had been removed because of budget cuts to staff needed to care for the flags. But after Monday’s meeting, Mayor Frank Hibbard cleared the air.

“Well, I think first of all, we took care of a lot of misconceptions. It’s incredibly important, our flag. And it’s important to be displayed throughout the City of Clearwater and the way we do it. I think that the Staff got a little ahead of itself without consulting the Council and we’ve remedied that.”

City staff recommended which flags should come down – mainly in places like maintenance buildings where the public does not congregate.

City Manager Bill Horne made the decision without consulting City Council. That made Horne the target of public backlash and criticism by Mayor Hibbard and the other members of council before he apologized.

“On the consultation piece with the Council, I will take that one squarely on the chin. I make thousands of decisions on a weekly basis and every now and then, I may make a wrong one. And this is one where, quite frankly, I did not think was one that needed to be run by the Council.”

Of the members of City Council, George Cretekos was the most critical of Horne’s decision and judgment.

“I accept your apology, Mr. Horne. And even though you do have the authority to make day-to-day operational decisions without consulting this Council, in my opinion for you to have done this without advising at least the Mayor, disturbs me greatly, shows a lapse of judgment, and a definite lack of respect for the Mayor and this Council.”

Mayor Hibbard and other City Council members, like John Doran, said they would have liked to have been consulted, but said City Manager Horne just made a bad decision in not consulting the city’s elected officials.

“I didn’t serve 27 years in the armed forces as the City Manager did, but I did serve in the armed forces in 1968, 1969, and 1970, protecting, I believe at that time and today, the rights of people to say just about anything they want to about anybody including me. But I am offended at the number of people who, in my own opinion, probably have never served their country, who have chosen to characterize the City Manager and me – by inclusion as a member of the City Council – as variously communists, Marxists, un-American, and not patriotic.”

Of the city’s more than 50 flag locations, the only flagpole that has been removed is on Memorial Causeway. Flags at about 15 locations were removed last week, but will be raised again. Flags flown at night must be lit, according to federal requirements, but city staff noted that the Memorial Causeway flagpole was too tall for lights to illuminate the flag. Raising the lights higher would have been a distraction to traffic. Rick Carnley, assistant director of solid waste and general services, says the city plans to put in a slightly shorter flagpole than the one that was recently removed.

“We took the pole out with the intentions of not putting that 55’ pole back, but possibly later on looking at and trying to determine could we go back with, say, a 30’ pole. … If we want to come back at a later date and look at a … 30’ pole that would get us over the palm trees, which are about 22’ high. We’ve got to clear them because the flag can’t touch the palm trees.”

Mayor Frank Hibbard says the staff considered the flag issue in the first place because of constant attempts to find any cost savings in the budget. The city has reduced its parks and recreation staff by 25% over the past three years.

Hibbard says the outpouring of response from citizens was “fairly significant. From phone calls to emails we were hearing from Veterans. We were hearing from a lot of citizens and organizations that said ‘let us take ownership of that.’ It’s really a time where I think we take pause and remember how important it is, the strength of our country and what the flag represents.”

Clearwater resident Bob Weber was one of the only members of the public to attend the workshop. He says he’s fine with removing some flags from locations that are not gathering places for citizens.

“I think it’s a lot to do about nothing. The flag should be raised and the City should have a flag. But on the other hand they do have to cut some expenses and if there’s not a flag in a certain location, then there’s not a flag in a certain location. I mean, they said that they had 40 flags and how many is enough? But certainly they should not be removed from certain locations where there are a lot of people.”

Mayor Hibbard says it will probably be less expensive to light the dozen or so flags that are not currently lit at night than to employ people to take the flag down at dusk and put it back up at dawn. But the Mayor did not say what source of city funds he would use for that purpose.

“There’s a lot of budgetary issues, but we’ll find the dollars to light those flags and to keep them in place.”

Hibbard says City Council will decide within the next two weeks which flags, if any, will go – or if any should be added. He says the Memorial Causeway flagpole will be replaced and will be lighted in a way that meets Florida Department of Transportation standards.

City of Clearwater

Clearwater City Council

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