Cold Spring Weighs Flag Options

Also, state finally agrees to aqueduct hookup

It seemed like an open-and-shut case just a week ago. On the advice of the village attorney, Cold Spring would adopt a policy allowing only the U.S., New York State and POW/MIA flags to be flown on village property. 

But at the Wednesday (June 8) meeting of the Village Board, Mayor Kathleen Foley outlined three options she said were now under consideration. 

The board had second thoughts about flag requests after agreeing to fly the Ukraine and LGBTQ+ Pride flags. The Ukraine flag has been removed from a window at Village Hall but the Pride flag will be displayed until the end of Pride Month on June 30.

Last week, Foley referred to the process of determining which flags should be allowed as a “Pandora’s box,” which could put the board in the position of “acting as the arbiter of free speech.”

Trustee Eliza Starbuck agreed. “It’s better to close that can of worms as quickly as possible.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, resident Gaston Alonso passionately disagreed with the policy discussed last week, which would effectively ban the Pride flag from being flown on village property after this year. 

“State and local governments around the country do fly the Progress Pride flag, including our neighbor Beacon,” Alonso said. “Don’t be afraid; it’s already been done. I hope you can find the empathy and political courage to figure this out.” 

Foley said banning the Pride flag is not being discussed. Rather, she said, it is “consideration of a larger policy related to flag flying in general,” adding there will be public discussion of the policy once it is ready for review.

During the meeting, and in a letter to the editor of The Current, she outlined what she said were the village’s three options.

“One is creating an open forum to allow diverse expression, flying flags without restriction, beyond that of hate speech, as defined under the law,” she said.

She added that some forms of free speech, though not hate speech, “is absolutely abhorrent, and that’s where it gets tricky.”

She said flying the National Rifle Association, National Right to Life or socialist flags could result in “a local cultural war, centered on village government,” something she described as unnecessary and unproductive.

A second option, which Foley described as “similarly problematic,” would establish a policy outlining which kinds of flags can be displayed, with each request to be reviewed based on criteria set out in the policy.

The third option would be to allow no flags after the end of June except the U.S., state and POW/MIA flags.

Foley asserted that a story in the June 3 issue of The Current created the impression that she and the board were creating the policy because the Pride flag makes people uncomfortable.

“That is not the case at all,” she said. “None of us is afraid to fly that flag; it is flying now.”

Starbuck cited a case in which the City Council where she grew up denied an application from the Ku Klux Klan to burn a cross at Christmas, but a court upheld the KKK’s request as a matter of free speech.

“I don’t want to see symbols of hate being put on public property,” Starbuck added. “I would hate to be forced into that by the court.”

Alonso was unmoved. “Being a public servant means having the courage to do what is right even when it is controversial,” he said. “And the Pride flag doesn’t seem to have caused any controversy here yet.”

He said that when local governments fly the Pride flag it says to the LBGTQ community: “You matter, you have value, we will protect you. “

Short-term rentals 

Last week the board appointed seven residents to serve on an ad hoc committee to make recommendations on revisions to a law that regulates short-term rentals such as those booked through Airbnb. 

The committee consists of four STR operators (Branis Buslovich, Maryanne Remy, Lara Voloto and Tom O’Quinn, whose rental is in California), along with three non-STR operators, Travis Fyfe, Megan Shea and Jennifer Zwarich.

On Wednesday, Foley said that of the three local STR operators, only Remy had applied to the village for a permit and that Remy had been rejected because she didn’t meet the three-year village residency requirement. 

Foley apologized for not having notified the applicants not chosen to serve, including STR operators John Lane and Peter Farrell, before the appointments were announced. She also apologized to Farrell, saying she and Starbuck misspoke when they said that Farrell should not be on the committee because he had already provided substantial public comment. 

Foley noted that the board had a frank public conversation about whom she recommended, and whom trustees wanted to appoint. “That’s a hallmark of this administration, that we are doing our work transparently,” she said.

Catskill Aqueduct 

Foley reported that state Sen. James Skoufis recently assisted the village with setting up meetings with the state and New York City regarding Cold Spring’s emergency water supply. 

The state, she said, has agreed that during repairs to Cold Spring’s reservoir dams, the village will be able to tap into to the Catskill Aqueduct, which crosses Route 301 and Fishkill Road at the eastern edge of Nelsonville. 

The village has been seeking approval for the emergency water connection for more than a decade. Foley said the agreement will be signed once plans for dam repairs are complete. The village was scheduled to meet with an engineering firm this week. 

In other business…

  • Foley and Larry Burke, the officer-in-charge of the Cold Spring Police Department, recently met with Laurie Sigalos, the newly appointed executive director of the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub. The Hub plans to propose a pilot project for officer training and 24-hour coverage for calls dealing with mental health. 
  • Seastreak cruises will again dock at Cold Spring on Saturdays and Sundays this fall, from mid-September to mid-November. The company is also considering weekday cruises over the summer. 
  • The board named Lilian Moser as event coordinator, a part-time position to oversee larger events held in village parks. 
  • The Cold Spring Fire Co. responded to 13 calls in May, including three activated fire alarms, three mutual-aid requests, two motor vehicle crashes, a brush fire and  potential structure fire, a medical assist, a gas spill and a report of a gas odor. 

7 thoughts on “Cold Spring Weighs Flag Options

  1. Three times now Mayor Foley has told us that beyond hate speech there is an area of free speech that she considers “abhorrent” and that she plans on banning from village property. She has listed “the NRA flag, the Right to Life flag, and the Socialist flag,” as examples of what she wants banned.

    Before those on the left think this does not apply to them or would somehow benefit them, be aware that Foley’s ban would also forbid the future flying of the Ukrainian flag and the LGBTQ Progress flag recently flown by the village.

    And to be clear, contrary to the reference here that “Foley said that banning the Pride flag is not being discussed,” the mayor’s new regulation only allows the U.S., New York and POW/MIA flags to fly and would, in effect, ban the LGBTQ Progress/Pride from flying on village property in the future.

    In fact, in order to prevent the village flying flags of right-wing organizations she disagrees with, Foley wants the trustees to join her in putting in place a total ban on all such flags.

    We should all be concerned when those we entrust with power use that power to tells us what speech is allowed and what speech is “abhorrent” and not allowed. This is an issue that affects all of us.

    I hope fellow Cold Spring residents speak up, write letters, attend board meetings on Zoom and push the trustees to prevent the mayor from drawing the village into a culture war of her own making that will pit neighbor against neighbor. We can do better than this in Cold Spring.

  2. How will the mayor not allowing flags other than the U.S. flag lead to a culture war among neighbors? I would think that decision stops the fighting from ever beginning.

    • If the mayor had simply allowed the LGBTQ Progress Flag to fly without all of this noise, very likely there would be no controversy. In fact, none existed before she decided to revise the flag regulation. Instead, her framing of this issue as being driven by an attempt to prevent requests for flag flying from residents who support groups that she labels “abhorrent” (she’s mentioned the NRA, Right to Life and Socialists) has drawn heat where there was none.

      Mayor Foley has drawn these groups into the very war she says she wants to avoid. In the meantime, the Progress flag, which she has claimed she supports, will not fly again in the Village, also drawing heat where there was none.

      Now we are left with a situation that municipalities and states around the country have avoided by either having an approach of “all fly” or an approach with detailed processes to decide what flags fly. By banning all, Foley hurts all — and we shall see if that means that neighbors turn on each other around these cultural issues or, perhaps, neighbors join forces across political differences to replace public officials who bungle the handling of issues that other local governments have figured out how to handle. Let’s hope for the second. Cold Spring deserves better leadership.

  3. First, it also sounds like all of this is still being discussed and no decision has been made.

    Second, I think you’re twisting her words in a few ways here. She did not call any group “abhorrent” but said that the flying of some flags would lead to cultural “wars” that would divide the community. I agree with that. Trustee Starbuck then spoke about the free-speech issues at play here and gave an example of a town being forced to allow a KKK cross burning.

    If you allow all flags to fly, you can’t deny anyone. If you let each request become a community-wide debate, you’ll create the unrest that we see now when this topic is discussed in local Facebook groups. Private homeowners and institutions should be able to fly whatever flag they want, as they are. Local governments saying we don’t want constant debates about this so let’s limit it to the U.S. flag only is a wise decision, in my opinion.

    • The mayor has used the word “abhorrent” at the last two council meetings and in her letter to the Current. With all due respect, Trustee Starbuck’s story is irrelevant since New York state law already forbids hate symbols from being displayed on public land.

      The idea that the Progress Flag can’t fly in Cold Spring because it would cause all kinds of groups to demand that theirs also be flown is a fabrication of the mayor’s imagination. The only other request that has been made this year was to fly the Ukrainian flag. So where is the controversy that is causing this move which will lead to the future banning of the LGBTQ flag?

      All this noise is not the result of community groups but of the mayor. It would serve the village well if our elected officials reached out to experienced officials in other local governments and learn how to do this without banning the flying of LGBTQ flags. If the governments of other municipalities have figured out how to do so, why can’t ours? They can if they want to.

      Of course, given that the change in policy came about at the mayor’s insistence without any prior controversy requiring it, maybe this is all about wanting to find a way to prevent the LGBTQ flag from flying again. I understand you’re interested in defending her move. My sense of self-respect and justice leads me to find it indefensible. And so here we are two neighbors pitted against each other by the controversy whipped up by the mayor’s words and actions.

  4. I hope the Village of Cold Spring will choose to set a better precedent and come to understand how crucial public displays of Pride flags are for local LGBTQ+ people.

    The government has historically discriminated against LGBTQ+ people, and with more than 300 anti-trans bills introduced in 2022 alone so far, it very much still is. To fly the Pride Flag is a signal to the community that the local government stands behind LGBTQ+ people. And I know from personal experience that many on the board do stand behind the community — they have supported Putnam Pride and made the decision to fly the Pride flags in the first place — but to now make the conscious choice not to fly the flags, before there has even been a complaint, just to avoid the discomfort of pushback, or work that Mayor Foley has characterized as “a distraction,” is cowardly. And more than that, it is actively harmful to the LGBTQ community.

    While other counties are falling all over themselves to raise flags and show their support, I’m not aware that any municipality in Putnam has done so, except for Cold Spring. They should be commended, but to now walk it back for really no good reason would not only be a shame, it would send a very dangerous message to the people they’re trying to avoid clashing with that the Village can be bullied into doing whatever they want. I hope the Village will reconsider its decision.

    McDermott is the founder of Putnam Pride.

  5. We support the village in flying the U.S. flag only as a symbol of unity of all people genders and faiths. It has flown since the inception of our country.

    If additional flags are allowed to fly at the Village Hall, where would it end? How would other groups be treated? What if some groups wanted their flag such as the Knights of Malta, NRA or Citizens of the Moon. Would we say no to them, as well? Let’s stop dividing the country over politics and special interests.
    If someone wants to fly a flag on their own property they should and are free do so. But opening this up for all manner of flag flyers will only cause more division among the populace and lead to more troubles.