Philipstown Adopts Moratorium on Flag-Flying

Wants to set policy after approving Pride flag for June

The Philipstown Town Board voted 4-1 at its Wednesday (May 25) meeting to adopt a six-month moratorium on flying of flags by outside groups on town government property until it can set a policy regulating the practice.

Effective July 1, the moratorium can be extended for an additional year and applies to flags at Town Hall, the Recreation Center, highway garage and other town-owned sites.

It will not prevent the display in June of the LGBTQ Progress Pride flag on a pole at Town Hall, which the board approved May 5, or cause the immediate removal of the Ukrainian flag that hangs in a window. But both will be taken down when the moratorium begins. 

The action was prompted by a discussion earlier this month after a resident, Sean Conway, asked the board to display a Progress Pride flag during National Pride Month. Steve Gaba, the town attorney, cautioned the board: “Once you allow one non-governmental flag to be displayed, you have an obligation — because you make it an open forum under the First Amendment — to display other flags [upon request]. You can open quite a can of worms when you start flying other flags, unless you have other poles designated for that purpose.”

Van Tassel said he favors limiting the Town Hall flagpole to the U.S. flag and a Prisoners-of-War/Missing-in-Action flag for service members and the New York State flag on a separate pole. “Other than that, I don’t see any other flags being out there,” he said.

Board Member Megan Cotter, who cast the lone “no” vote against the moratorium, nevertheless advocated that the town keep the focus on the U.S. flag. “I wish we would’ve spoken a little bit more” about the matter before voting May 5 to allow the Pride flag, she said. With that one going up soon, even if temporarily, “we are still allowing a special-interest group” to claim space on town property, she said.

“I take the blame” for moving forward with the Pride flag, said Van Tassel, who added that the board nonetheless did conduct “an open discussion” before proceeding.

Board Member Judy Farrell said she took issue to descriptions of LGBTQ residents as a special-interest group. “They’re our community,” she said.

Farrell and Board Members Robert Flaherty and Jason Angell joined Van Tassel in approving the moratorium.

In other business, Van Tassel opened the meeting with an emphatic call for national action to stop mass shootings such as those in a Buffalo on May 14 and a Texas elementary school on Tuesday (May 24).

“Whether you’re in the NRA or the PTA, we can all agree that something’s wrong and something needs to be done,” said Van Tassel. The country “needs to unify and come up with some kind of a solution. Something has got to change,” he said. “I’m tired of it and I’m sure everybody else is too. Enough of the carnage. Enough of the senseless killing.” 

The board held a moment of silence for the Texas and Buffalo victims and their families. 

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