The Manassas City Council has rejected a proposal that would have allowed American flags to be flown from city-owned utility poles in residential neighborhoods, rebuffing an effort from community members on Clover Hill Road who began a flag-flying project last year.
During their annual retreat last week, a majority of councilmembers cited various concerns about neighborly unease and staff time in tabling any action that would expand the city’s Old Town flag program to more residential areas.
City staff had laid out a few ways the potential program could work. Councilmember Mark Wolfe said the most likely proposal would have been similar to the way in which residential parking zones work. If 60% of residents on a street signed a petition requesting participation in a flag system, the city would have installed flags on public utility poles, at a cost to the residents.
Only American flags could have been flown, under the draft proposal, with the city determining the appropriate size limits.
According to the city staff proposal, the cost of purchasing and installing flags in Old Town was about $60 per flag, with the city replacing between three and five a month due to wear and tear from the weather.
The issue was brought to the fore after Clover Hill Road resident Greg Neiss started flying American flags on public light poles after the start of the pandemic last year. He said that after he’d hung about five, neighbors caught on and asked him to install more, making donations to cover his costs.
All told, Neiss put up 15, reaching Wellington Road. And at a town hall event last fall at the Manassas Regional Airport, a number of city residents spoke in favor of a city project that would line residential streets with flags following what they saw from Neiss.
Neiss, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said he took pride in the city when he drove down Main Street in Old Town with its flags flying.
“I had always thought how nice it would be to have the flags waving on my section of the road,” Neiss said. “Shortly after the coronavirus hit us, I thought this was the time to fulfill my dream, so I began hanging them one or two at a time.”
But Wolfe said any program in which a majority of residents on a street had to sign off could make for an uncomfortable political situation.
“Everyone has the right to put a flag on their own property. But getting into making political statements using public property, I think I’ve proven I’m as patriotic as the next person, but I don’t like … the idea of forcing that on people, in essence,” Wolfe said. “I was very uncomfortable with a situation where if you had 40% of the people who didn’t want this, you would sort of be forcing it on them.”
Councilmember Theresa Coates Ellis, the council’s lone Republican, spoke favorably about a flag program last year. She couldn’t be reached to speak about the matter, and Mayor MIchelle Davis-Younger – a Democrat who beat Coates Ellis in the race for the mayor’s office last fall – declined to comment on the matter to InsideNoVa.
Former Republican Councilperson Ian Lovejoy, in a Facebook post about the matter, said the council was being too risk-averse.
“The Manassas I know isn’t going to turn into a war zone because of some flags. Our residents are better than that, and we should show them the respect of trusting them to make this decision,” Lovejoy wrote. “Public support for flag installation has spanned race, culture, language and neighborhood and has been overwhelmingly positive.”