Darien Debates, then Votes on a Flag Policy

Dan Guller speaking to the Darien Board of Selectmen (CT Examiner)

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DARIEN – After a three-month delay and heated discussion, the Board of Selectmen voted on Monday night to prohibit the flying of all but the federal, state and town flags from the municipal flagpole. The decision came despite opposition from members of the LGBTQ community.

In August, the proposed Display of Flags policy, which would replace ad-hoc decision-making by the board, drew a large crowd of Darien Pride members to Town Hall in opposition, but at Monday’s meeting Democratic Selectmen Michael Burke and Sarah Neumann led the charge, suggesting instead a policy that would allow residents to request the flying of flags.

“It’s just weak to pass the buck and have a total ban,” said Burke. “It eliminates the conversation forever.”

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Burke acknowledged that voting on flag submissions could bring legal troubles and take up meeting time, but he suggested the policy could be amended later if needed. Burke said that if the board passed the proposed policy, it would eliminate an opportunity for shows of support.

But Republican Selectmen Jon Zagrodzky, Marcy Minnick and First Selectmen Monica McNally said there were other ways to support minority communities.

“We can’t allow ourselves to say that flying a flag in front of Town Hall is the only or the best way to do that,” Zagrodzky said.

Zagrodzky said there was no better way to demonstrate acceptance and inclusivity than officials joining the community in town-wide events and residents flying flags in front of their homes as they did the past Pride Month.

“In all due respect, thinking about what goes onto a single flagpole in front of Town Hall or a flagpole at the beach versus what I just described, frankly seems trivial and almost insulting,” Zagrodzky said.

Neumann responded that she didn’t find the conversation trivial at all and thought that hearing requests from residents was important. 

Burke asked Zagrodsky why the board couldn’t allow flag requests in addition to supporting the community at events.

Prior to the debate, Attorney Wayne Fox summarized the Supreme Court case – Shurtleff v. Boston – in which a Christian group sued the city of Boston for refusing to fly their flag on a municipal pole, given that Boston previously allowed other secular flags. Fox said that if the town allowed residents to propose flags, he expected there would be numerous flag submissions and litigation as a result.

McNally recounted requests she had received since their August meeting for almost 15 different flags to be flown over Darien, including flags supporting Pride Month, Ukraine, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Month and the Pro-Life cause.

Minnick said that looking at the list of requests, she was not comfortable voting on any one of those flags and potentially disparaging a group of people.

“Would I be hurting someone? Would I be marginalizing someone because of that vote? I don’t think that’s my job as a selectman to do that,” Minnick said. “My job as a selectman is to be the voice, going out there and supporting it at community events”

Burke argued instead that it was perfectly within the board’s right to decide that a flag was too political and reject submissions. Both Burke and Neumann both said that the board was made up of an intelligent group of people that could make those decisions.

“Politics is about choices,” Burke said. “And this is about a choice whether or not we’re going to do something active and use our intellectual capabilities, or we’re going to take the easy choice and just say, ‘these three flags.’”

McNally said it was not an easy choice and said she was not happy with Burke’s characterization of the debate. She said that all board members were making their decisions carefully. 

“I personally think that the Darien flag, the Connecticut flag and the American flag cover everybody in our community,” McNally said. “Every single person is represented underneath those flags.”

“Well, that’s it then,” said Burke.

The Board of Selectmen then voted to approve the policy down party lines, with three in favor and Burke and Neumann opposed.

Dan Guller, chair of the town’s Pride committee told CT Examiner that the meeting didn’t go as he had hoped, but the vote was not unexpected.

Guller said that there were plenty of town policies that did not apply to everyone. For example, he said, only seniors had free beach passes, schools were closed on Rosh Hashanah and the Town Hall was closed on Christmas.

Guller said residents showed support for LGBTQ youth by flying flags and putting out yard signs, and it was a shame that the town government wouldn’t do the same.