Community Government

Crowd packs city hall as divided council approves display of Pride flag in June

Posted on September 14th, 2023 By:

A standing room-only crowd packed the Civic Center chambers on Monday, Sept. 11, for a four-hour meeting during which the Gig Harbor City Council approved a new flag display policy.

About 60 people spoke during the public comment period, with a nearly equal number for and against the policy. In addition, more than 300 people submitted written comments about the policy.

The policy approved by the council conforms with that of Washington state. It includes provisions for flying the Pride flag in June, during Pride Month.

Pride flag

The Pride flag was the crux of the issue.

Many of those opposed to the flag policy said the city should only fly government flags.

Those in favor of the policy argued that displaying the Pride flag reinforces Gig Harbor’s status as “a welcoming city.” Several noted that the Pride flag can be a suicide deterrent, giving hope to individuals who feel unwanted and marginalized. Several commenters noted that September is Suicide Prevention Month, as proclaimed by Mayor Tracie Markley earlier in the meeting.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the policy. Council members Le Rodenberg and Seth Storset voted against it.

Markley only votes in the case of a tie. She said if she did have vote, she would not support the policy.

“Council’s job is to make the policies. My role is to enforce them,” Markley said. “But if there was a tie, I would vote no because I believe that parts of my oath (of office) are in conflict with parts of this ordinance.”

She did not explain further.

Jennifer Averett (r) and James Davis (l), with 7-year old Eleanor Davis and 4-year old Eddie Davis, were among those supporting the flag display policy at Monday’s city council meeting. Photo by Charlee Glock-Jackson

No previous policy

According to City Administrator Katrina Knutson, the flag display discussion began in June, when Councilwoman Jeni Woock asked that the Pride flag be flown outside the civic center.

The city did not have a flag policy and only flew federally required flags. It needed a formal policy to fly additional flags, Knutson said.

The council considered flag policy options during study sessions in June, July and August. At the Aug. 17 study session, the council directed staff to prepare a policy for discussion at the Sept. 11 meeting.

The policy

The new policy, known as Resolution 1291, codifies which flags the city may display, when and where, and how flags will be flown or lowered to half-staff at city facilities.

The resolution also states that “the flagpoles and other city infrastructure included in this policy are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public, but rather as a non-public forum for displaying flags as required by law and for the expression of the city’s official government speech, or both.”

The policy permits display of the U.S., Washington state, POW-MIA, Pride, Puyallup Tribe of Indians and sister city flags.

Flagpole locations

Currently, the city has an outdoor flagpole in front of the civic center and single poles in Skansie Park and Kenneth Leo Marvin Veterans Memorial Park. Flags on stanchions rest in council chambers.

The city ordered an additional flag pole and will install it in front of the civic center on Grandview Street. Officials have not yet decided the exact location of the new pole, Knutson said in an email.

The city permanently displays the U.S. flag and Washington state flags in council chambers during city meetings. The Pride flag will be displayed in the room in June and the flag of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in October and November.

The municipal court also uses the chambers. The municipal court judge can designate what flags will be displayed when court is in session.

Other council business

  • Markley called for a moment of silence to honor those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which occurred 22 years ago on day of Monday’s meeting.
  • Police Chief Kelly Busey recognized the promotion of Hector “Eddie” Dominguez to police sergeant. Busey noted that Dominguez was born in Juarez, Mexico and has been with GHPD for seven years.
  • Markley declared the week of Sept. 10 as Suicide Prevention Week. Find more information here.

Upcoming meetings

  • The council will meet for a study session at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Civic Center to continue a discussion of tiered utility rates.
  • The next regular council meeting is Sept. 25. All council meetings are open to the public and can also be accessed via Zoom.