By JEFF ST. PETER
By a unanimous vote, the Port of Brookings Harbor Board of Commissioners has brought the Peoples Republic of China flag controversy to an end by setting a new policy on what flags will fly above the port and the China flag will not be one of them.
After listening to an hour of debate on Wednesday evening over what should be done about the ports Friendship Flags, the four commissioners in attendance decided to return flags to the 10 poles on the boardwalk just not the same flags.
Commissioners Ken Byrtus, Norma Fitzgerald, Ed Gray and Lloyd Whaley attended the meeting, while Commissioner John Zia was absent.
The board decided to purchase 50 flags, one representing each of the United States, and the six U.S. service flags.
The 50 state flags will be flown daily over the port boardwalk, in alphabetical order as much as possible depending on the availability of the flags, and on a rotating basis.
On specified holidays, the six service flags will be flown according to protocol Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, left to right facing the Chetco River. The flags will be flown on the middle six poles, while two poles on each end will remain empty.
The service flags will be flown on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day in honor of Americas veterans, and any other special holidays or events deemed proper by the board of commissioners.
Port Manager Russ Crabtree opened the board meeting presenting a staff report on the issue. He began by discussing the history of the controversy, which began on Memorial Day prior to a veterans ceremony on the port boardwalk.
Early in the morning of May 28, the port received complaints of the Peoples Republic of China flag, one of 10 Friendship Flags, flying in the same area the Memorial Day event was going to take place. The Chinese government was the primary supporter of the North Vietnamese army during the Vietnam War, and some veterans and area residents found the flag offensive.
Crabtree immediately ordered all the Friendship Flags taken down, as not to offend anyone specifically, he said.
On May 29, port officials and merchants met to come up with a plan to avoid such a problem in the future. It was decided to remove the Friendship Flags on major holidays and replace them with the six service flags.
On the afternoon of May 30, the Friendship Flags, including the one representing the Peoples Republic of China, were again raised over the boardwalk.
Within hours threats were received that the flag would be forcibly taken down and burned, so Crabtree again ordered the flags down to avoid a potentially volatile incident.
On June 12, the port hosted a public meeting at the Harbor Fire Department to get input from the affected parties and other interested residents in the hope of reaching a compromise.
After an hour-and-a-half of discussion, no middle ground was reached and it was decided that the port commissioners would research the issue for legal ramifications and make a policy decision.
Crabtree told the commissioners and those in the audience that there were four possible solutions:
Discontinue the Friendship Flag program entirely and take down the 10 flag poles.
Only fly the flags of the 50 states and the service flags on specific holidays.
Fly nautical flags or color banners.
Go with the original solution to fly all the Friendship Flags except on major holidays.
From a legal perspective, Crabtree said the First Amendment issue of freedom of speech had been cleared up.
The poles are public property, he said. The First Amendment projects those rights on private property.
So the decision is at the boards discretion.
Crabtree then turned it over to the board.
This meeting is to establish protocols and standards for flying flags over the port, he said, under the guidance of the board of commissioners, so we can fly flags again.
We have reviewed this for six weeks, the pros and cons, and there are good arguments on both sides. But there seems to be no middle ground, so we are seeking the boards direction on proper protocol.
Commission Chairman Lloyd Whaley presented the boards position prior to the meeting.
We have discussed this quite a bit since this whole thing came down, he said. We looked for a solution without denying anyone their First Amendment rights on private property.
The board is looking at flying the six service flags on holidays and the 50 state flags the rest of the time, along with the Stars and Stripes.
Port merchant Jo Mochulski told the commissioners she was concerned that the Peoples Republic of China flag was being misrepresented.
China is not a Communist nation, its socialist, she said. And all red flags are not communist. The flags of Norway, Denmark and Switzerland all have red backgrounds, as does the U.S. Marine Corps flag.
This is just adding fuel to the fire. And we need to remember that the flag of China will not be flying alone, but may be eventually only one of hundreds if the program continues.
Mochulski said only one decision could keep the Friendship Flag program intact.
The compromise of taking down the flags on holidays and other than that letting the Friendly Flags be flown, she said. Other than that, any decision would not be Friendship Flags.
We need to remember the purpose of the flags is as a gesture of welcome and goodwill for all residents and visitors.
The debate was not reasonable, Mochulski said. This is so out of hand, she said, its gotten crazy.
I respect the veterans, but this is not political, this is not what the (Friendship Flag) program is about. The decision you are making, no matter what it is, is about flying the Chinese flag or not.
This is a simple issue and weve made something more of it.
Mochulski said the arguments were not based on fact, just negative emotions.
These feelings are based on fear, anger, intolerance and prejudice, she said, but they have the right to express their opinions.
If you decide not to fly the China flag you are supporting fear, anger, intolerance and prejudice.
I urge you to let the Friendship Flags fly and support tolerance, welcome all people, and be proud of our community.
Commissioner Ken Byrtus said that China was not the same as countries the United States had been at war with in the past.
When we talk about other countries we were at war with at one time, he said, those regimes fell and are now democracies. We still have a problem with China.
How can we still fly that flag with the (ongoing) suppression of the Chinese people?
Byrtus said the commissioners had sought the middle ground.
We tried at the meeting on the 21st, he said. We heard all the veterans apologize to Pat (Silveria, who purchased the Peoples Republic of China flag). We spoke with Pat and tried to compromise, but Pat just didnt want to do that.
If shes going to stand fast, well have to make a decision that not everyone will be happy with.
Commissioner Norma Fitzgerald expressed her concern that the veterans needed to be considered in the decision.
This is an unfortunate situation, and I feel sorry for people on both sides, she said. I dont think myself, or the veterans, or many people are over this (Vietnam War) were not ready yet.
I cant possibly offend the veterans.
Veteran Jim ODonnell reminded the commissioners of recent Chinese government action taken against the United States.
Things havent change in China over the past 20 years, he said. Its only been a few weeks ago where they took our servicemen and jet.
There are good people all over the world, but are we going to fly the flag of a communist nation, given the recent act of aggression against our country?
Its a shame. I dont want to see them fly that flag.
Brookings resident Bette Moore was concerned the focus of the issue had been lost. The only point I want to make is that its sad this has become about China. The Friendship Flag program is wonderful. I really think if hundreds of flags were involved this wouldnt be an issue.
But I think Norma (Fitzgerald) is right about the community not being ready (to forget). But if we could flood the program with flags, it could work.
Commissioner Ed Gray echoed Fitzgeralds sentiments.
I agree with Norma, I dont think the community is ready, he said. After World War II we didnt have anything to do with Japanese cars or products for a long time.
It took time for our veterans then, and as of now, our (Vietnam) veterans arent ready.
Marilyn Kornell said the Peoples Republic of China flag over the port would be a disgrace.
I would be ashamed, she said, if we fly a Communist flag in our community.
Fitzgerald then made a motion to restrict the Friendship Flags to the 50 state flags, the six service flags and Old Glory. The motion passed unanimously.
Farrell said he was honored by the position the commissioners took.
My gut reaction is that I am glad to see the port commissioners and port authority show their appreciation for the many veterans in our community, he said. I had no idea of (the commissioners) appreciation for the veterans, and it makes me feel good.
Looking at the overall view of this community, I agree with the decision.
Silveria was not as pleased with the commissioners path to resolution.
I feel that the side of intolerance, hatred and bigotry won, she said on Thursday. She was not able to attend Wednesdays meeting.
Its not just about the Chinese flag. If our children are not being taught tolerance, the result is bigotry, Silveria said.
Im disappointed more than anything else in how it ended, but it reinforced what I thought would happen taking the least path of controversy.
It ends a big chapter, but it speaks volumes of how we operate at the port as well.
Crabtree said the first series of state flags had been ordered Thursday and should be flying over the port boardwalk in the near future.