Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst won’t fly commemorative flags this year

By Katie Landeck

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Amherst won’t fly its commemorative flag set from the utility poles today.

And, they won’t fly them next year or the next year, despite Amherst resident Larry Kelley’s annual appeal to the Amherst Town Select Board to change the town policy of flying the flags once every five years.

“If the flag is good enough to fly every fifth year, then it is good enough to fly every year,” said Kelley.

The select board made the decision to fly the flag once every five years in 2010 according to Stephanie O’Keeffe, chair of the Select Board.  Originally, the select board had decided to fly the flags every three years to reflect a 2007 town meeting vote where members voted two to one against flying the flags on Sept. 11. But, the board changed that decision to ensure that the flags would fly on milestone anniversaries such as the 20th anniversary.

“It’s highly unusual for the select board to do something different than the town meeting vote. It’s not a precedent you want to set,” O’Keeffe said. “But, it seemed reasonable to compromise.”

O’Keeffe had voted in favor of flying the commemorative flags during the 2007 town meeting.

The decision to not fly the flags sparked national controversy this year, after “Fox & Friends” did an interview with Kelley for their Sept. 2 broadcast. The broadcast aired under the headline “Town won’t fly American flags on 9/11.”

The story was then picked up by other wire services and spurred a slew of hate mail criticizing Amherst.

“We received a ton of hate mail last week from all around the country,” said O’Keeffe, who personally responded to every letter. “They were reacting thinking we were not allowing flags to be flown.”

But, that’s simply untrue.

At 9:45 a.m. today in front of the fire station, Amherst residents – including O’Keeffe and Kelley– will gather for a ceremony remembering the first responders and people who died during the terrorist attack. The flag that flies daily in front of the station will be raised and then lowered to half-mast at 9:55 a.m.

“It’s a very meaningful and poignant way for the community to gather,” O’Keeffe said.

In O’Keeffe’s individual responses to those who criticized the town, she informed them of a policy she believes was misrepresented through shorthanded headlines.

“So many people have come back saying ‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand,’” said O’Keeffe, who did not have many people say they still wished Amherst would fly the flags.

Currently, the flags are flown on holidays such as the 4th of July and Memorial Day, which some town members believe give the flags a festive air that is inappropriate for the solemn occasion.

“Some people felt the flags created an atmosphere that felt celebratory,” she said.

Kelley strongly disagrees with this sentiment.

“Flags fly on Memorial Day which is when we remember our dead,” said Kelley.

Kelley continued lobbying the select board to change its stance of the commemorative flags at last night’s meeting.

However, he met little success as the issue was not on the agenda and the select board did not discuss the issue further as it had been previously discussed at a select board meeting in August.

“We spent a week and half being attacked, criticized and abused,” O’Keeffe said. “There is no way we could have a rational discussion.”

Kelley plans to pursue the issue further and hopefully get it on a ballot for a non-binding referendum vote this November or for it to be voted on during the spring town meeting.

He believes, based on what he perceives to be a change in the sentiments of the townspeople and a poll on Amherst Bulletin website, that if the issue is voted on again it will pass.

“I’ve never entered a fight thinking I’m going to lose,” Kelley said.

However, he admitted that he would do whatever the people voted for.

“I want to find out what the people think. Whatever the people say I will abide by it,” Kelley said.

Kelley plans to stand in the center of town holding his own flag at 8:45 a.m.

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]

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