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The town flag is displayed on the wall behind the board's table in the meeting room in this file photo.

Williamstown Board Votes to Remove Town Flag From Meeting Room

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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There are two versions of the town flag; one in Town Hall and the other in the Hall of Flags at the State House. The 1753 House in Field Park is a recreation built for the town's bicentennial in 1965.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board has agreed to remove the town flag a year after town meeting established a bylaw restricting the use of flags on public property.
The town flag has been prominently displayed behind the table in the Select Board meeting room for some time. Its three mountains, the Mount Greylock tower and fall foliage haven't caused any issues — it's the image of the 1753 House sitting in the middle. 
The board voted unanimously to remove it as no longer representing the town's values and culture and to replace it with the town's logo or images of Williamstown for now. It also is not on the list of flags approved for display, noted Chair Jeffrey Johnson, but there could be some "grayness" on what the Select Board could host if it wished to pursue it. 
"The bylaw speaks for itself," he said. "That's something I don't believe we followed up on when we wrote the bylaw originally."
The article passed last May stated that only the U.S. flag, the state flag and the POW/MIA flag could be displayed at specific town properties including Town Hall. The article was unanimously recommended by the Select Board and was in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that governmental entities had the right to select the views it wants to express.
Board member Stephanie Boyd said she'd spoken with Thomas Sheldon, the former board member who had served on the flag committee back in 2015. Sheldon had told the DIRE Committee last month that he was not opposed to changing the flag as "Williamstown's world has changed dramatically" since it was adopted. His granddaughter had come up with the basic design for the flag.
"I don't think this flag any longer really reflects the broad spectrum of people and ideas when we think about Williamstown and even if we keep the flag, I think like having it here as the backdrop of every single town board meeting, I would say is a lot," said Boyd. "So I would recommend that we put it someplace possibly less prominent than it is now and we could think about why we want a different flag."
Board member Jane Patton said she gets "jumpy about removing historical facts so that we can represent ourselves in a different light ... but it doesn't mean you ignore or erase history. ...
"This one rubs at me a little bit in that regard."
The argument against the town flag was that it displays the town's colonial heritage, a symbol not celebrated by every citizen, she said, but noted that the town was considering adding in the progress pride flag that also doesn't apply to everyone in town. 
The Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee had brought up the issue that the town flag runs afoul of the bylaw at its meeting last month. It also voted unanimously at the same meeting to recommend a citizen's petition to town meeting that would add the progress pride flag be added the list of approved flags, which the Select Board unanimously endorsed on Monday with no discussion. 
Johnson said he wanted to "absolutely make it clear to the citizen, the young citizen who put this flag together, this has nothing to do with you."
"At the time you did exactly what we were looking for, the town went through due process to make this determination," he said. "But obviously, it means somebody who looks at culture in our town and looks at what this represents to many, which has come out many times over the last couple of years, I just think it's something that we need to figure out."
Board member Randal Fippinger, also a member of the DIRE Committee, said he agreed with both Boyd and Patton that context matters. 
"I would love for that to be kept, but to go either to the Historical Society or another place that some smart people feel that it should be," he said. "Because when, just reiterating what Stephanie just said, when we look at it in every meeting, it sends a message of values."
Johnson said he would like it to come down and be placed where it can be enjoyed, noting how much he dislikes the state flag that show Myles Standish's sword above a Native American. (An effort to redesign the state flag petered out last year.) 
"It is history but it's not inclusive history," he said. 

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Williamstown Town Meeting Passes Progress Pride Flag Bylaw Amendment

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Mount Greylock sophomore Jack Uhas addresses town meeting on Thursday as Select Board member Randal Fippinger looks on.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — By a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, town meeting Thursday passed a bylaw amendment to allow the Progress Pride flag to be flown on town flag poles.
The most heavily debated article of the 40 that were addressed by the meeting was decided on a vote of 175-90, amending a flag bylaw passed at last year's town meeting.
Mount Greylock Regional School sophomore Jack Uhas of the middle-high school's Gender Sexuality Alliance opened the discussion with a brief statement, telling the 295 voters who checked into the meeting that, "to many, the flag is a symbol that, in our town, they belong."
The speakers addressing the article fell roughly in line with the ultimate vote, with eight speaking in favor and four against passage.
Justin Adkins talked about his experience as, to his knowledge, the only out trans individual in the town of about 7,700 when he moved to Williamstown in 2007.
"Most people, when I moved here, had never met a trans person," Adkins said. "Today, that is not the case. Today, many people in this room are free to say who they are.
"LGBTQ-plus youth still face a world where their basic being is questioned and legislated. … Flying a flag is, really, the least we can do."
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