GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commissioners once again discussed the potential merits and challenges in hanging posters of past and present veterans along light posts in Gallipolis City Park.
One woman who lives near the park read a letter she said was intended for the Tribune asking to keep Gallipolis City Park “simple and beautiful.”
According to City Manager Gene Greene, the Parks and Recreation board met twice over the banners issue.
“The park board met twice in the last two weeks and I’m just relaying what they had to say,” Greene said. “They’ve come up with maybe a few flags on First Avenue on some holidays and they’d like to see if they do go up, if you guys OK them or the park board, they’re to be up no longer than five to seven days. They also recommended Haskins Park. Haskins Park is already a vets park. I guess looking at that, if somebody actually wants to see that (environment) and enjoy that or has people on that flag, they can have a choice to go there.”
Some members of the board supposedly suggested the banners be hung from posts much like the Gallipolis Lions Club has done in the past with certain fixtures at certain times of year.
“The biggest thing that we have seen — and that we’ve all come to the same conclusion — is that we haven’t seen a plan,” Greene said.
Greene said VFW Post 4464 that had originally approached the city commission about hanging the veteran banners had not come up with a specific plan with how long they wanted to leave the banners up.
“Soon as we get a real plan, I guess they can go back to the table,” Greene said in regards to the park board. “I am going to make a suggestion that, since there seems to be disagreement among the veterans parties, is to make sure that everybody is on the same page. I think if they do (bring a plan) to us, they should bring a letter of support from each organization so we have a letter of documentation that they are on board with this.”
Commissioner Steve Wallis said he thinks the commission could be a back-up appeal to hear from the park board if someone disagreed with them, but that the park board was appointed to make such decisions in regard to manners like the banner setup. Wallis said the commission needed to take the park board’s recommendations into consideration and “override” their wishes.
Commissioner President Tony Gallagher said he contacted the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to see how the state felt about the legality of the issue.
According to an email he received from Sherry Maxfield of the AG’s office, “Government may place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on the access/use of public property. However, those restrictions must be content neutral. In other words, government cannot decide to allow one group to engage in an activity on public property but deny another group that same opportunity simply because their message may be viewed by some as offensive. An activity in a city park that is permitted to one group must be made available to others.”
Some commissioners discussed the potential of controversial groups such as the Ku Klux Klan wanting to make use of such banners as an example. Commissioner Matt Johnson said regardless of that, precedent had already been set with functions of other organizations being set up such as Gallipolis in Lights, Gallipolis in Bloom and the Downtown Revitalization Project.
“You’re both right,” said City Solicitor Adam Salisbury. “If someone were to come in and petition us for a spot, we have to make arrangements for them to have a spot. We can’t discriminate on the basis of their political message.”
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.