Flags fly, but at different heights

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Mike Heine
Friday, January 18, 2008

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle recommended lowering the U.S. flag to half-staff Wednesday for the deaths of two Wisconsin soldiers killed in Iraq.

Delavan City Hall did.

Elkhorn City Hall didn’t.

The Walworth Post Office followed the recommendation.

But across the street, the village hall had its flag flying high.

The director at Williams Bay’s Barrett Memorial Library said she would have lowered the library’s flag if she’d known about the governor’s recommendation and if she’d had a ladder to reach the tie-down cleat.

After being told that Wednesday was a half-staff day, the Delavan postmaster went outside and immediately lowered his flag.

The Fontana public works department got the word Wednesday morning and made sure their municipal buildings were at half-staff.

Walworth County did, too.

Most of the flags in Darien, however, flew at the top of the poles.

The recommendation to lower the flag to half-staff in honor of the state’s fallen soldiers is sometimes followed, sometimes not. And sometimes, no one knows they’re supposed to do it.

That needs to change, veteran Bob Webster said.

“It bugs the hell out of me to drive down the street and see village halls, police stations, churches, fire stations, Legion halls and banks that don’t do anything about it,” said Webster, who every Monday leads a Support the Troops rally at the Walworth County Government Center in Elkhorn.

There are no laws that say municipal building flags should be lowered. It’s merely a suggestion.

“The governor only has the authority to order the lowering of flags at state buildings and facilities,” according to an e-mail notice from the governor’s office. “By no means is the e-mail meant to tell you what to do at your facilities but merely an invitation to show uniformity to the extent you wish.”

There are two common reasons for lack of uniformity.

First, word of gubernatorial flag recommendations is not uniformly spread.

“It varies. Sometimes (notices) come from the governor’s office, other times from the Municipal Clerks Association,” said Walworth Clerk Donna Schut.

Sometimes, nothing comes, she said.

The Fontana Post Office didn’t get a notice from the district offices in Milwaukee, Postmaster Lee Schnoor said.

“I didn’t know” Schnoor said. “I was calling around. In Walworth, I noticed theirs (at the post office) was at half-mast, but I noticed Walworth (village hall) was at full mast.

“I called Williams Bay. Theirs was at full mast. I asked if they heard anything, and they said, ‘No.’

“If someone let me know that I need to lower it, then I lower it. But I never heard.”

Second, finding someone to lower flags can be a problem.

Schut will get a notice, but the public works department doesn’t have an e-mail to forward it to. Sometimes they’re too busy to stop in and check for the printed notices, she said.

Fontana has received notices late on Friday to have flags at half-staff on Saturday, but there are no weekend employees to lower the flags, said Deputy Clerk-Treasurer Julie Olson.

“It’s hard for me to understand why municipalities would not make it a policy,” Webster said. “Most have 24-hour-a-day police patrols. It would just seem like a natural that the police department would send an officer out to lower the flag.”


Flag rules are U.S. code; they are not law. No municipality is doing wrong by not lowering the flag, and receiving notice from the governor’s office is voluntary, said Carla Vigue, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jim Doyle’s office.

“The governor orders flags lowered to half-staff out of respect to soldiers, their families and the service to their country,” Vigue said. “He will invite everyone to join him when he orders the state flags lowered to half-staff.”

Get on the governor’s e-mail notification list by visiting his Web site at www.wisgov.state.wi.us.

Click on the “Contact us” link and fill out the “Contact Us - Online E-mail Form” to receive notifications about flag lowering from the governor’s office.

Last updated: 1:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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