Rainbow flag over library prompts new rules in Des Plaines

In response to the rainbow flag flying outside the Des Plaines Public Library in honor of the Orlando terror attack victims, city aldermen Tuesday approved new rules giving them the power to decide which flags can be raised over any city-owned or leased property.

Under the new rules, only the flags of the United States, state of Illinois and city of Des Plaines, and the POW-MIA flag can be flown over municipal sites. Any other flag requires prior approval from the city council, according to the resolution aldermen passed in a 5-3 vote.

The rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride, began flying outside the library June 17, five days after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Mayor Matt Bogusz said library board President Greg Sarlo asked him for permission to fly the flag, which remained outside the library until Tuesday.

Alderman Jim Brookman, who proposed the new policy, said it has nothing to do with the “pros and cons” of the rainbow flag. Rather, he argued the council should have been presented reasons for it flying over the library and given the authority to decide whether to allow it.

With the reasons given, Brookman said he probably would have voted for it.

Without procedures governing flag flying, there could be no limit to groups that want their flag displayed over a city building, he said.

Bogusz called Brookman's resolution a “solution in search of a problem.”

Alderman Mike Charewicz, who along with council members Don Smith and Denise Rodd voted against the new policy, criticized Brookman for “micromanaging.”

“My philosophical belief is that the city council should be part of the decision-making process in the city,” Brookman responded. “That's what I think we're elected to do. I don't think this is micromanaging. We're talking about flying flags over public buildings. This is not a small issue.”

Rules for flying flags on municipal property aren't precisely clear, and officials at the Northwest Municipal Conference — which represents 44 suburban communities — said Wednesday they haven't tracked policies in their member towns.

On Wednesday, Sarlo stood by the decision to fly the rainbow flag and said the council should be spending its time on more pressing issues in the city.

“We had 49 people that were slaughtered. I think that's more the issue, regardless of who or what the community is. It was a no-brainer,” Sarlo said of flying the flag. “(The new policy) will take the burden off the mayor to make a decision like that, but I think it's silly we even have to have discussions like this when so many people have been murdered.”

Sarlo said he and library officials received both positive and negative comments from residents, as well as commuters passing by on Metra, about the flag.

As to comments opposed to the flag, Sarlo said, “If people have to ask why that flag was flying during a time when there's such a tragedy that affected a certain community, they should be ashamed of themselves.”

The morning after the council passed new flag-flying rules, Des Plaines VFW Post 2992 Commander Mike Lake sent an email to aldermen asking to fly the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines flags for five days each on the library flagpole in November, in addition to the POW-MIA flag there for five days.

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