SMITHFIELD – A version of a new proposed ordinance that would restrict which flags are allowed to be flown on town property failed before the Town Council last week after residents and council members expressed concerns that the policy may be too constraining.
The ordinance proposed by Councilor John Tassoni would only allow the Smithfield and the Rhode Island flag to be hung under the U.S. flag indoors and outdoors on town property. The council was unclear whether the ordinance would allow for sports and academic achievement banners, such as championship banners hanging in the schools, to be hung.
Sponsored flags and flags to honor donations would be allowed with Town Council approval. Sponsored flags, said Town Manager Randy Rossi, include those from businesses that sponsor sports teams on fields.
During the May 16 council meeting, Town Councilor Sean Kilduff made a motion to table the new flag ordinance to give councilors time to review a similar ordinance in Newport. He said the Newport policy allows for the best of both worlds, including free speech.
“I encourage you to hold off and evaluate at a later date,” Kilduff said.
He said he’s struggled with the ordinance and cannot support it in its current form. He provided a similar ordinance in Newport that would allow flags to be flown that portray the collective interests of residents and not necessarily the free expression of the public. It also grants the ability of non-hate speech organizations to utilize Town Hall, with consent, to advance agendas that he feels are important for community growth.
“I think it authorizes and allows for the best of both worlds in terms of free speech and also be able to have a say on, you know, what is appropriate and what is not,” Kilduff said.
The council rejected a motion to accept a modified version of the ordinance allowing hanging sports and academic achievement banners. The split decision had Kilduff and Council President Michael Lawton against and Councilors Rachel Toppi and Tassoni approving.
Kilduff made a motion to table, and it failed to get a second. Next, Kilduff requested that the council adopt Newport’s policy, which also did not receive a second and failed.
Councilor Rachel Toppi said the ordinance opens the door for anyone to request anything to be hung, and the town should stay neutral on certain matters.
Councilor John Tassoni expressed concerns that the town deciding on what is appropriate and what is not is a slippery slope. He said almost every single flag hung on town buildings is decisive. He said no matter what flags are hung, even no flags, someone will disagree.
“We have more important things to worry about than the flag on the building,” Tassoni said.
Former Town Council President Suzy Alba expressed concerns that flags such as those for breast cancer awareness, sports victory banners, academic achievement banners, and other, including those in support of first responders, would not be able to be hung under the new ordinance as proposed.
“What’s the rationale?” Alba asked.
Town Solicitor Anthony Gallone said any other flag request would need to come before the town for approval.
Gallone said the simple way to look at it is that only sponsored, donation recognition, town and state flags are permitted, and all others must come before the council.
The council will hear the matter at a later date not yet determined.
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