By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – Westborough’s rotary will have both flags and signs to honor veterans on three national holidays after the Board of Selectmen agreed, via a 4-1 vote, to make an exception to a long-standing policy.
The action occurred at the May 11 meeting following a request from Patrick Tracey, co-chair of the Westborough Veterans Advisory board. He asked selectmen to reconsider an earlier denial to plant the signage honoring veterans in conjunction with the flags on Memorial Day, July 4 and Veterans Day.
He said the dual displays are important to not only the veterans but to the community as well. He said the flags and signs are “a visual recognition of the service and sacrifice” of veterans and their families.
Although selectmen earlier offered suggestions for other spots to put the signs, Tracey maintained that the rotary is the best place because it is a high traffic area.
He said that the installation could act as a “teaching mechanism” for youth to learn about the sacrifices made by veterans on behalf of the country.
Tracey recommended selectmen rethink the town policy that prohibits the placement of signs, noting that past practices actually allowed it.
Selectman Shelby Marshall said that the 1991 policy limits the signs to notices about Town Meeting, water conservation bans and elections. When the issue came up last year in connection with veteran recognition efforts, the signs were already in the ground, so they were allowed to remain.
However, Marshall said not adhering to the rules now and allowing exceptions would “invite unwanted challenges” from other groups seeking to bypass the policy.
She also said that the flags are a beautiful tribute and could stand alone, without signs explaining them. As for those signs, Marshall added that alternative locations were reasonable.
Tracey disagreed, saying having the signs and flags at separate locations did not carry the same weight as a combined display. He said the policy had only been “arbitrarily enforced” over the years and suggested it needed revisions.
Other selectmen spoke in favor of both allowing the exception and revising the policy for the future.
Vice Chair Ian Johnson said that it is a year of exceptions. Because the town cannot hold a Memorial Day parade due to COVID-19, he said, the dual tribute at the rotary is fitting.
Selectmen Chairman Allen Edinberg said that he understood both sides of the issue. When an exception was granted last year, it was explicitly stated that it would be a one-time stray from the policy, he said.
Edinberg said that realistically, if you let one person or group bend the policy, it creates an opportunity for other groups or people to demand the same treatment.
Tracey noted that the veterans are not a political party but, rather, a town organization. Ultimately, the vote was 4-1, with Marshall in opposition, to make an exception and allow the flag and signs to stand together in the rotary.
Selectmen also agreed to review and update Westborough’s sign policy. Edinberg said that updating policies is on the board’s list of goals for the year, and Selectman Patrick Welch would be spearheading that effort.
This effort follows similar recent work by the entire Veterans Advisory Board to plant flags at cemeteries in town. Working with volunteers, the Board’s members collectively helped mark the graves of Westborough’s many veterans.