California city snubs president, victims of Pearl Harbor
December 10, 2012
San Luis Obispo staffers accuse city officials of snubbing the president, the “greatest generation,” and victims of Pearl Harbor after they ordered employees to raise flags lowered in honor of Pearl Harbor patriots to full-staff.
President Barack Obama proclaimed December 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day to honor “the most devastating attacks ever to befall the American people.”
“We mark this anniversary by honoring the patriots who perished more than seven decades ago, extending our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones they left behind and showing our gratitude to a generation of service members who carried our nation through some of the 20th century’s darkest moments,” the proclamation says.
“I encourage all” organizations in America “to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff in honor of those American patriots who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.”
After it was discovered that some San Luis Obispo staffers placed flags at half-staff following Obama’s proclamation, city management ordered the flags raised to the top of the poles, claiming only Mayor Jan Marx and the city council are permitted to order city owned U.S. flags flown at half-staff.
However, U.S. policy says only presidents and state governors can decide when and how long the U.S. flag should be flown at half-staff. These proclamations generally honor the deaths of high-ranking federal officials or servicemen who have lost their lives protecting the United States of America.
Nevertheless, San Luis Obispo city policy allows elected city officials to refuse a presidential proclamation and to order the nation’s flag to be flown at half-staff to honor deceased former city officials.
On Oct. 4, Mayor Jan Marx ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of former city council member Myron Graham, who passed away at the age of 99 a few hours earlier. On Oct. 5, city staff followed her command and lowered the approximately 10 U.S. flags flow on city properties to half-staff.
Marx said she became aware that several city staffers sent emails complaining of the city’s refusal to honor veterans of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the same day Marx and members of the city council rode on a float in the city’s Christmas Parade. Marx told CalCoastNews.com she plans to look into the issue.
However, she refused to answer several questions, such as does the city or the president have the authority to determine when the U.S. flag can be flown at half-staff. Nor did she address why she did not deal with the issue on Friday.
Following the city’s insistence that flags not be flown at half-staff on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, numerous employees, mostly veterans, voiced their concerns in emails to city management. In one email that was copied to all city employees, a former Marine spoke of his military service and his support for those who have died while serving the United States.
“If I seem upset to you, it’s because I am,” the employee says in the email. “As a veteran, that flag is sacred to me. I wore it on my sleeve when I was getting rocketed and mortared in Afghanistan; I’ve unloaded body bags off a Blackhawk helicopter which were draped in our flag. Pearl Harbor was an epochal event in our nation’s history; my late father was a WWII veteran of the Pacific theater.”
Assistant City Manager Michael Codron responded by claiming only elected city officials have the ability to determine when the U.S. flag is flown at half-staff on city owned properties.
“I do recall last year and I’m sorry the city’s flag policy is not consistent with how you – and I know many others – would have the city recognize important memorials, such as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day,” Codron said in an email. “The flag policy can be changed by the City Council, and I would encourage you and others who have an interest in this issue – as I would any member of the public that wanted to see our flag policy changed – to get together and either write a letter to the City Council or attend a regular meeting and provide public comment on this matter.”
San Luis Obispo Police Officer Matt Blackstone, a former combat Marine who served in the Persian Gulf, also sent emails to city management. He wrote about mourning his fallen comrades and voiced his disappointment in the city over its refusal to honor patriots of Pearl Harbor.
“Today I am left with a similar sick feeling in my gut, maybe a little less intense, but similar that I work for a city administration and council that has such disregard for the sacrifice of our veterans, Blackstone says in the email.
“The fact that our city would have a policy that we don’t fly flags at half-staff on these historic days is shocking. As I write this I have been told that employees of our city were ordered by their supervisors to raise the flag back to full staff at their work location after having lowered it in remembrance of the day.
“So in closing, I will say this to our Assistant City Manager Michael Codron, calling it your job doesn’t make it right, boss. You are second in command of the city, fix it please.”
UPDATE: Jan Marx responded with the following statement after this article was posted:
The city flag policy was enacted long before I was on city council. I learned about the request to lower the flag on Pearl Harbor Day only after city staff had said no to it. I want to make sure our flag policy conforms to federal law and have asked our city attorney to review the matter.