A flagpole-policy proposal that would limit the flags the County of Door flies to American, state, county and military flags will be returning to the Highway and Facilities Committee in September.
Wayne Spritka, director of county facilities and parks, said during the committee’s Aug. 9 meeting that the county does not currently have a written flagpole policy.
“If there’s a policy, we’ll follow it, and if not, we’d do what’s right and just,” he said.
District 9 supervisor Dan Austad, who represents three wards in the City of Sturgeon Bay, asked for the item to be put on the committee’s agenda and proposed the county fly only American, state, county or military flags on county flagpoles.
“And that’s it,” he said.
There are 15 county-owned poles, according to the inventory list Spritka supplied to the committee. When the Peninsula Pulse asked Spritka several days after the committee meeting what the county currently flies, he said it’s complicated, depending on how many poles there are and the location. Primarily, his list included the American flag, with a few state, county and POW flags.
However, June is Pride Month, when the rainbow-colored flag is flown to signal welcome and inclusion to the LGBTQ+ community – and the county flew the Pride flag in June, both this year and last year, at the Government Center in downtown Sturgeon Bay, Spritka said.
Austad wanted the committee to create the policy – which he took from the City of Oshkosh’s flag policy – and forward it to the full Door County Board of Supervisors directly from the Aug. 9 meeting. District 6 supervisor Ken Fisher, who represents wards in the city and town of Sturgeon Bay, seconded that motion because, he said, he had received “complaints in June on certain flags.”
“It’s the Pride flag; you can say the Pride flag,” said District 10 supervisor Alexis Heim Peter, who represents wards in the City of Sturgeon Bay, to Fisher.
Austad pushed back on the suggestion that he was singling out the Pride flag, saying they didn’t have a policy to guide them on any requests to fly a specialty flag.
“If someone wanted to raise a Klan or Confederate flag, could they fly it?” he said. “I have no idea.”
Yet Austad also had with him a copy of Gov. Tony Evers’ executive order that directed the flying of the Pride flag over the state capitol in June. That order was not, Austad said, a mandate that counties and municipalities do the same.
District 15 supervisor Elizabeth “Beth” Gauger, who represents wards in the towns of Egg Harbor and Sevastopol, said that whenever flag-flying issues have arisen in counties and municipalities across the nation, they have sparked huge debates and impassioned speeches.
“Let’s just leave this alone,” she said. “Don’t do this; it’s going to be a mess.”
Heim Peter agreed. If supervisors were getting phone calls about Pride flags in June, they should just handle those calls.
“I don’t understand why we have to open this can of worms because you got a couple of calls,” she said. “You’re a supervisor; you’re going to get calls.”
“I’m not opening a can of worms; I’m closing a can of worms,” Austad said.
Heim Peter also said the agenda did not clearly indicate that they were going to be discussing which flags could be flown on county flagpoles. The agenda item read “Flag Displays on County Property – Discussion and/or Policy.” The supporting information in the packet was the County Flag Pole Inventory list of the 15 locations.
“I’m looking at a list of flagpoles, so I don’t know what this is,” she said.
District 2 supervisor Todd Thayse, who represents wards in Brussels and the village and town of Forestville, said that tackling any diversity, equity and inclusion issue has “the potential to be explosive,” but he said they shouldn’t back down on having difficult discussions.
“I’ve received calls and sat through charged discussions, and I’m willing to sit through those, also as a county board,” he said. “Then we’ll have clear direction to facilities on what we do.”
District 20 supervisor Walter “Bud” Kalms, who represents wards in the Town of Liberty Grove and Village of Sister Bay, agreed.
“We can’t be afraid of controversy here,” he said. “Let’s debate it.”
The proposed flagpole policy will come back to the committee in September. Any policy decision the committee recommends in September will need to go to the full county board for consideration.