The University Place City Council voted Monday night to erect a flagpole outside the civic and library building, ending a yearlong, emotionally charged debate.
The vote was 6-1. Councilwoman Caroline Belleci voted no, saying the project was premature.
An earlier vote to erect the flagpole closer to Bridgeport Way failed 4-3. Council members Eric Choiniere, Chris Nye, and Mayor Ken Grassi joined Belleci in voting no.
The flagpole will be 50 feet tall and erected on the east side of its public plaza.
A task force of three council members and other community members couldn’t agree on a single location and recommended two sites for consideration by the full council.
University Place resident Ruthann Reim McCaffree, a task force member, and city arts boosters raised concerns about erecting the flagpole close to Bridgeport Way. One reason is it would block the view of the bronze duck sculpture, dedicated to the memory of Reim McCaffree’s late husband, Terry Reim, a UP civic booster, they said.
But supporters of that site said the flag would be more visible closer to Bridgeport Way.
Councilwoman Denise McCluskey acknowledged it was a mistake to have three council members on the task force when the recommendation should have been turned over completely to the community. The councilwoman said she was “very heartbroken over the division that this has caused.”
Grassi said having three council members on the task force was a mistake. He said the city has been “humiliated and embarrassed” by the news coverage of the flag debate.
Belleci said it’s premature to erect the flagpole until University Place decision-makers move from Windmill Village, the current location of city offices. The police and parks and recreation departments are the only city departments currently in the building.
“This has nothing to do with patriotism,” she said. “This has to do with civic operation.”
Belleci admitted she should have done more to prevent the debate from going on so long.
“We majorly screwed up on this,” she said.
Added Councilman Eric Choiniere: “We have consumed a ridiculous amount of time on this issue.”
McCaffree had offered to pay for the entire project, including installation and lighting, if the city located the flagpole near the civic building.
Norman LaBrecque, a member of University Place Kiwanis, had offered to pay for the flagpole and flag if it was located near the street. LaBruque withdrew that offer Monday night, after voicing concern that the other offer may be a violation of council rules.
“I feel very disturbed about the entire situation,” he said.
McCaffree’s offer didn’t come up during the meeting. The city decided to pay for the project with $20,000 it set aside for Town Center development expenses later deemed ineligible to be used for that purpose.
“It’s the city’s responsibility, and the city needs to owe it to its citizens to erect a flagpole,” McCluskey said.
Councilman Javier Figueroa has pushed for a flagpole, citing federal code that requires the American flag be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of public institutions. He says the building met that criteria when the University Place Pierce County Library opened in February 2011.
The project will have to be put out for competitive bid and it’s unknown when it will be installed.
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