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Parks & Recreation considers request to fly Pride flag on green

At-large Councilor Kristen L. Mello (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – At-large Councilor Kristen Mello presented a request on behalf of the Westfield Pride Alliance to the Parks & Recreation Commission at its May 10 meeting to fly a Pride Progress flag in Park Square Green during the month of June.

Mello said they would like to raise the 5 by 8 foot flag on the morning of June 1 and lower it on June 30. She also asked permission to hold a small ceremony during the lowering of the flag for “those we have lost.”

Mello said LGBTQ youth are more subject to bullying and violence. She said those who make it, continue their education, go to work, pay taxes and spend their lives in the community. “Park Square is still the meeting place of the community. Our request is to allow Pride Alliance to raise the flag to represent our community,” she said, adding, “It is important to remember extra-marginalized people in our community.”

During the discussion, Commissioner Ken Magarian said it was important, as Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. pointed out during public participation, to review the policies and procedures for banners, signs and flags. He acknowledged that two city departments, the Council on Aging and City Hall have displayed and flown the Pride flag.

Commission chair Michael Tirrell said he had reviewed the City Charter and could not locate anything specific as to what can and cannot be flown. He said he only found a section on residential flags, and on metallic flag sockets.

Morganelli, who serves as liaison to Parks and Rec, said he only found a section limiting sizes of flags to 3 by 5 ft. He also said he remembered the commission denying the flying of a flag for Childhood Cancer Awareness four or five years earlier.

“You need to take a step back. You can’t say no to one group and yes to another,” Morganelli said, adding that he found the lack of ordinances regarding flags disturbing. He also said it shouldn’t fly higher or be larger than the American flag, according to state and federal ordinances.

Mello said the American flag is 10 by 16, and the Massachusetts flag is 6 by 10, which is why they chose the size of 5 by 8. She said she had inquired as to whether anyone had flown a flag on Park Square before, and was told no one had asked to.

Commission chair Michael Tirrell asked whether anyone who was on the commission before him remembered the request that was denied. Several members remembered a request to put ribbons on all of the trees, but didn’t think it was to fly a flag.

The discussion then considered other groups they might in the future request to fly a flag. Tirrell said in general, every request has to be considered equally. “If someone came through with a request that had legal ramifications, or was detrimental to society, I still think this commission has the ability to make the decisions about those things. I understand the precedent piece of it. Particularly with banners, we don’t allow banners to be flown outside the day of the event,” he said.

Another commissioner asked where the flag would be flown. Mello said there are two flag poles on the green, and they would put it on whichever was approved.

Another commissioner suggested finding out what guidelines City Hall followed when they raised the Pride flag last June. Tirrell said he would follow up with the mayor to get clarification on any specific guidelines. Mello suggested speaking to Michele Moriarty in the mayor’s office, who had arranged for that event.

Tirrell said since the request is for the month of June, they would need to schedule a special meeting, or conditionally approve the motion with the understanding that the commission would follow up with City Hall. “If the commission is willing to meet again, I’m happy to follow up. The only other option is to put it to a vote,” Tirrell said.

“In Springfield, the policy has always been, if it’s for a group of constituents in the city, they would consider it, but not for a cause or event,” said Dennis Akins, who spoke in favor of the flag raising during public participation and previously worked for the City of Springfield.

“For myself, I have no objection to the flying of this flag on the green. The responsibility of the commission is to make sure we are following every guideline and ordinances of the city charter,” said Tirrell.

“The size was the only thing I could find. I know the commission has denied certain banners and signage on the green. It seems like whenever a group wants signage or a display on the green, it’s for the day of the event. I cannot remember a one-month flying of anything. As a city councilor, what I see as a problem is the size of the flag and the length they want to fly it for,” said Morganelli.

Magarian said they could make a motion to approve, which wouldn’t have to be precedent-setting, as they could approve any flags on a case by case basis.

Tirrell said he wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be precedent setting. Morganelli said it absolutely would.

Tirrell said he would feel more comfortable if he were able to speak to the mayor regarding the rules, and schedule a special meeting before June to decide. He asked Mello if that would be agreeable.

“People have waited a long time, two more weeks is ok. We wouldn’t want a yes tonight if it’s a no next week,” Mello said.

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