Residents of Fresno may have a case of deja vu this week.
After last year’s Pride flag controversy at Fresno City Hall, a new policy proposal on flag-raising and flag-lighting ceremonies is already being pushed back.
This time it has less to do with any particular flag. But the debate seems all too familiar.
The mayor and city manager’s proposal on this week’s Fresno City Council agenda would list 15 flag-raising or lighting ceremonies for 2022 at City Hall and the approval process annual ceremonies. The list includes: Martin Luther King Jr./Black History Month; Veterans Day; Greek independence; commemoration of the Armenian Genocide; Indian independence; Mexican independence; Hmong Americans Day; Pride; June 19; breast cancer awareness; domestic violence awareness; Earth Day; Sister cities; Police Memorial Week; and National Day of Prayer.
The proposal would give back to the city manager the power to determine which flags will be flown at City Hall and Eaton Plaza. The new proposal directs the mayor’s office of community affairs to review ceremony applications. The proposal would eliminate additional requests for ceremonies at City Hall once the list of annual events is approved by City Council. However, events may be added to Eaton Plaza. The city council would vote on event approvals and denials.
Last year, the Pride Flag was raised at Fresno City Hall for the first time in history after a week-long high-profile debate between Mayor Jerry Dyer, City Council, leaders communities and residents. The debate was sparked by a resolution at the time allowing city officials to hoist an honorary flag. Thomas Esqueda, then city manager, said the power to decide which flag to raise had left him with many questions about free speech. The resolution passed, but Dyer quietly vetoed it, even though the resolution received the five votes needed to override a veto.
With this week’s new proposal, these same questions have already arisen.
Council member Miguel Arias said he plans to table Thursday’s resolution.
“The draft text presents important First Amendment considerations,” Arias said. “I will ask that the item be tabled to give legal counsel sufficient time to analyze the draft policy.”
City Manager Georgeanne White said the proposal was urgent due to an Armenian Genocide memorial event in April that Arias was unaware of.
Arias agreed to offer suggestions that would address First Amendment concerns.
“Hopefully we can have productive discussions on Thursday that ultimately move the April event forward,” White said.
Council Member Garry Bredefeld’s position on the issue remains unchanged from last year’s debate.
“Only the flags of the United States, California and the City of Fresno should be flown outside of City Hall and any other flags should be flown in Eaton Plaza, just like we did with the flag Ukrainian,” Bredefeld said. “I fully support this, but with a majority of very left-wing radical politicians on the council, this policy will now allow them to fly ANY flag outside City Hall, even when a big many people in the community will find it offensive. This is why most municipalities do not fly the flags of political organizations or those attempting to make political statements. It only divides a community that we don’t need.