After nearly a full year of deliberation on the city’s flag and banner policy, Delaware City Council reached a decision during Monday’s meeting on the amended language that will now be used in its policy moving forward.
Delaware City Council paused its flag and banner policy at the recommendation of City Manager Tom Homan last May in light of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Harold Shurtleff v. City of Boston earlier that month. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled the City of Boston acted in violation of the U.S. Constitution when it refused to let a local organization fly a Christian flag on one of the three flag poles sitting in front of its city hall.
The ruling led Homan to suggest the city pause the policy “in order to understand this decision better” and to conduct a “risk assessment” of Delaware’s policy pertaining to government property. As of May 9, 2o22, all third-party organizations were denied the ability to fly flags on government property, a decision that was met with much discontent from members and supporters of the LGTBQ community with Pride Month just weeks away.
During its Feb. 27 meeting, nine months after the pause, the council held a public discussion to consider proposed changes to the policy. The meeting included a public hearing for members of the public to weigh in on the comments from council members and the current iteration of the proposed policy. Ultimately, the council decided to relay that draft to the public to garner further feedback prior to writing a final draft for adoption.
Monday’s meeting included discussions about the unintentional exclusion of groups from the banner policy by explicitly defining the permitted groups in the policy language. Under the proposed policy for banners at the start of the meeting, city-themed banners would be permitted to promote city-sponsored events, matters for which a proclamation has been issued, and initiatives of certain city institutional partners.
Partners defined in the policy included Delaware City Schools, Olentangy Local School District, Ohio Wesleyan University, Main Street Delaware, The Little Brown Jug, Central Ohio Symphony, Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, Delaware Arts Festival, Olentangy Riverfest, Alpha Group, Alzheimer’s Association, and the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
Following public comments and a lengthy discussion among council members about the exact language to be used in the policy, Homan suggested allowing City Attorney Natalia Harris to take the council’s feedback and redraft the policy to covey the thoughts shared in the discussion.
Mayor Carolyn Riggle reiterated her belief that the policy, however it was to be written, needed to be adopted that night given the length at which it’s already been discussed. Homan responded by saying, “If you insist upon making the decision this evening, I get it. But I also want to make sure that, because this is a pretty consequential decision you’re going to be making, it’s made properly and it’s understood before being voted on.”
At the urging of Homan, the council continued with its remaining agenda items while Harris redrafted the policy to include the latest proposals by the council. Later in the meeting, Harris presented the amended policy to the council for review prior to a vote.
The updated policy now reads, “It is the policy of the City of Delaware that city flag poles, streetlights with flag brackets and banner arms, and specific city grounds where flags, banners, and signs may be displayed shall not serve as a forum for free expression of the public. The exhibition of flags, banners, and signs displayed on city grounds where allowed are intended to serve as an expression of the City’s official government speech.”
Under the specific parameters identified for flags being flown by the city, the policy now states, “The flag of the United States, the flag of the State of Ohio, and the Delaware City flag shall be the only flags displayed on city-owned flag poles and streetlight flag brackets except that a flag of a government recognized by the United States may be displayed on city-owned flag poles or streetlight flag brackets upon the request of the mayor, a City Council member, or the city manager or his/her designee.”
As for banners, the policy now states, “Only city-themed banners created by the city will be displayed on city streetlight banner arms.” The policy further states that city-themed banners may promote federal holidays, city-sponsored events, and any banner or flags displayed by the city on or before May 9, 2022, the date of the original pause.
The council approved the amended policy with a 6-0 vote; Councilman Stephen Tackett was not present at the meeting. Following the vote, a large round of applause broke out from those in attendance, many of whom were there to advocate for the city’s continued support of Pride Month.
Following the vote, Riggle told those in attendance, “We will do our best to work on the (Pride) banners as quickly as possible.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.