The city of Federal Way may soon fly flags in front of City Hall supporting causes or groups — including the LGBTQ community — pending the council’s approval of a new flag policy in December.
The policy comes about five months after LGBTQ advocate Allison Taylor requested that the city raise the pride flag outside of City Hall when Federal Way officially recognized Pride Month for the first time in city history. However, Mayor Jim Ferrell had denied this request.
“At the time up until now, we’d been concerned about any equal protection violations and other requests for groups to fly flags that may not have community support,” Ferrell told the Mirror on Nov. 18. He added, “One of the things I did after some thought on the matter is I approached legal counsel and said there’s got to be a way we can do this that doesn’t run afoul of an equal protection issue. You can’t say no to one flag and not another.”
Ferrell notified the City Council in a Nov. 6 email that his office was working on a draft flag policy.
“With the ambiguity created by the City’s lack of an established policy on how to address requests to fly special interest flags in front of City Hall, I asked [city attorney Ryan Call] to draft a policy to be adopted by the council,” Ferrell stated in the email.
He plans to present the policy to the City Council as a resolution for their consideration at their Dec. 3 meeting.
According to the mayor’s draft policy that the council will consider:
• The mayor may authorize decorating city buildings to commemorate national holidays or the display of banners or flags supporting local or regional sports teams during times of public interest.
• The city may fly flags supporting causes or groups that are recognized by City Council proclamation.
• The council will use the established agenda setting process to determine if a request for recognition by a flag display will be presented to council members for signature and presentation as a proclamation at a regular council meeting.
• Groups or causes wishing the city to display their flag will provide to the city a flag with dimensions no larger than 4 feet by 6 feet to be flown below the city of Federal Way flag in front of City Hall. Flags will be returned after the display period. The city will not purchase flags for this purpose.
• Flags flown in recognition of a particular group will fly for seven days beginning the day after the proclamation. If flags are ordered to half mast, a group or cause flag will be removed until the flags are raised again.
“By issuing proclamation recognition, it has the blessing of the entire Council,” Tyler Hemstreet, the city’s communications coordinator, said. “We also now have clear guidelines for how long it stays up, dimensions, etc.”
Ferrell said while it has taken the city five months to find a possible solution, it was important to him to approach the issue with “intellectual integrity” and from a constitutional standpoint.
“Sometimes it really helps to come back to an issue and look at it a different way,” the mayor said. “I was a trial attorney for 19 years. Sometimes if you put something down for a little while and come back to it, you can look at it from a whole different perspective.”
Federal Way Deputy Mayor Susan Honda and council member Mark Koppang weighed in on the issue at the Mirror’s Oct. 10 candidate forum.
In response to a question about whether or not the city should fly the pride flag in the city, Honda said she would like to see the flag being flown from City Hall.
“I agree that we should be flying it, I’m not sure what would stop us flying it at City Hall,” she said, noting the council should look at city policy to enable the pride flag, and others, to be flown at City Hall.
Koppang said he did not want to see the pride flag at City Hall since there are three flagpoles already there for the U.S, the state of Washington and the city of Federal Way flags.
However, he told the Mirror he will support the draft policy.
“I like the policy draft and will support it,” he stated in a Nov. 19 email. “It provides a clear policy on special interest/group flags, including the Pride flag, providing guidelines for them being flown at City Hall without displacing the flags we fly at City Hall every day.”
Taylor commended the mayor for initiating the draft policy.
She said in order for the city to avoid “bad actors who may try and put the city in an uncomfortable position by expecting them to fly flags that are not inclusive, I think that City Hall did the appropriate thing. Creating a policy for the ‘ask’ of flying a flag makes sense.”
Taylor added that she is excited that Pride Month 2020 “won’t go by without our city honoring the underrepresented voices in our community. It’s sending the message of progress that Federal Way needs.”