Seaford says ‘No’ to state and national flags at Gateway Park

By Tony E. Windsor

The Mayor of Seaford squared off against his stepmother at a recent city council meeting and apparently walked away with the last word. Proponents of a plan to erect two flagpoles in Seaford’s Gateway Park left city hall council chambers last week disappointed. Other supporters at Seaford City Hall Annex joined the Downtown Seaford Association (DSA) and members of the Main Street Project on Tuesday, April 23, where they requested that the council allow them to fly a state of Delaware and a United States flag at Gateway Park. Short’s step-mother, Jane Short, who is a volunteer with the SMS program and is also a member of the Seaford Business and Professional (BPW) organization, represented the groups as the presenter of the flag request. The audience was informed that it was not the intent of the organizers of the Gateway Park project to allow anything to take the focus of the park from the center fountain that is displayed at the site. Seaford Mayor Daniel Short told the group that flags were discussed at the time the Gateway Park was being planned and it was felt this would not be in the best interest of the project. “It was felt that the significant contribution made by a private citizen to build the fountain in Gateway Park was best recognized by not allowing anything to take away from that focus,” Short said. Jane Short told the Mayor and Council that she and others feel having the flags at Gateway Park is an opportunity to help demonstrate the city’s patriotism. “Considering national patriotism at this time, we cannot fly enough American flags to let everybody know we are behind our president and that we believe in our country,” she said. She said that State Rep. Evelyn “Tina” Fallon donated the two 3’ x 5’ flags to the Seaford Main Street group, which proposed that the flags be flown on two 20-foot flagpoles. The poles were to flank the existing Gateway Park entrance sign located at the south end of the park, which faces the Blades Causeway. Jane Short said there would be no cost to the city for the project and the SMS group would pay costs associated with installing the poles, replacing the flags when necessary and any necessary lighting. The cost for the flagpoles is estimated to be about $545. Seaford Councilwoman Grace Peterson said if the flags need lighting she is concerned that floodlights could be accidentally, or deliberately adjusted in a way that would cause a distraction to motorists traveling down the hill as they were heading into the Blades Causeway. George Ruff, a member of the SMS organization was in the audience and said he did not see this as an issue. “The flagpoles will be higher than street lights, so I do not see this as a problem,” he said. Jane Short said it might be possible that there is enough existing light in the park to negate the need for additional floodlights. Mayor Short, a veteran himself, responded, saying that he has had complaints from U.S. military veterans in the area who express concerns about flags flying at night without adequate lighting. “I have done research and found that according to the official book on flag etiquette, any United States flag being flown at night must have a floodlight,” he said. “This is why we have made sure that all U.S. flags in the city have proper lighting.” Mayor Short went on to say that he is opposed to the idea of flying flags in the Gateway Park and no one in council chambers would be able to change his mind. “I hope that the show of support in council chambers for this request is not indicative of an effort to try and pass this through intimidation,” he said. In a comment to his stepmother, Mayor Short stated, “We have talked about this and you know that I am not in favor of having flags at Gateway Park. You will not change my mind. However, this is an issue that must be decided by these folks (city council members).”

Mayor Short went on to say that he is aware of a civic group in the city that has had informal discussions about a special project for the downtown area. He said that he feels it is important for as much input as possible when it comes to introducing new items into this area of the city. “I think we need to bring everybody into the mix, not just have special interests recognized,” he said. City Manager Dolores Slatcher told the chamber audience and council that there are many groups that request adding something special in the Gateway Park. She said the city has to be careful how it addresses these requests. “We have the fountain, which is the centerpiece for the park,” she said. “We added the Christmas tree so we could hold the annual Caroling in the Park event. However, if we allowed every request for adding something in the park I would be very concerned about how busy and cluttered Gateway Park would begin to become.” Seaford resident Justin Buchwald, a member of the SMS organization, said he was concerned with Mayor Short’s comment about supporters of the flag trying to get the request passed by “intimidation.” “We are here as members of the Main Street committee,” he said. “This is not an attempt to intimidate. I am not aware of any master plan regarding the downtown area. This is simply a request to put two flagpoles in Gateway Park and fly the Delaware and United States flags. And I think this is a great idea.” Dick Drummond, a World War II veteran and chaplain of the Seaford American Legion Post 19, was on hand to support a request to have an American flag and a state of Delaware flag in Seaford's Gateway Park. Mayor Short said he hopes that those people who desire the flags in Gateway Park, as well as area veterans, be willing to wait for something bigger and better in the near future. “We will be building the new Seaford City Hall on the property right next door,” he said. “It is my vision that we have a United States flag that is not 3-feet by 5-feet, on a 20-foot pole, but more like a 40-foot flagpole with a 12-foot by 20-foot flag. I feel this is how we can best celebrate the flag. I am not against veterans or the American flag. I am a veteran. However, I am against rushing to judgment without some type of master plan for the downtown area. There is nothing you will say tonight to convince me otherwise.” Councilman Larry Miller broke discussion and made a motion denying the request to erect flagpoles with flags at Gateway Park. However, the motion died for lack of a second. Jane Short said she disagreed with Mayor Short and felt that there could not be enough U.S. flags flying in Seaford. She said it was her feeling that the flags would not detract from the park’s fountain, but would give a welcome sight to people traveling into the city. After a brief discussion Miller once again made his motion. This time Councilman Ron MacArthur seconded the motion and the vote to deny the request for flags at Gateway Park passed with Councilman Ed Butler casting the sole opposing vote. Miller said he made his motion with the comment that he felt this way “at this time.” He wanted that to be made clear. Miller also asked for a timeline as to when the city was expecting that the new city hall be constructed. He was told it was anticipated that the building be completed by April 2003.

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