By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – After receiving feedback from his fellow Select Board members, Patrick Welch will continue to revise Westborough’s policies regarding flags and signs on town-owned property. He is expected to return at a future meeting with a proposal.
The issue was brought up recently when the town’s Veteran Advisory Board sought to have a display featuring both flags and signs in the rotary in recognition of Memorial Day. The town’s current policy only allows planted signs for Town Meeting, Election Day and water conservation ban notices. Ultimately, an exception was made.
Welch was given the task of reviewing existing sign policies and has been working with Town Manager Kristi Williams to revise them. Policy revisions are among the board’s strategic goals for this year.
During the June 22 Select Board meeting, Welch noted that the current policy states that the town follows the U.S. flag code. The draft he presented spoke about allowing another nation’s flag only at Bay State Commons in conjunction with an event.
Chair Allen Edinberg questioned what allowances would be made for POW, 911 memorial, and the state flag, as examples on any town property such as the rotary. Welch said following the U.S. code, those would be allowed to fly, but below the U.S. flag. He said he would add language into the policy to clarify those uses.
Select Board member Shelby Marshall asked about flags belonging to civic groups or for causes like Pride Month being allowed at the Commons.
“You should be aware if you allow a flag, you allow any flag, and so certainly understand the implications related to free speech,” Williams said.
Marshall noted that events have to be sanctioned by the town manager. Any event perceived to be dangerous or offensive would not be allowed, so the flag issue is irrelevant in those cases, Marshall said.
During the discussion on signs, Welch noted that public health and emergency type notices would also be allowed in the rotary.
Board members discussed things that would not be allowed, such as advertising, including commercial material as well as phone numbers, websites, or addresses on items; sponsorships; threats of violence; and safety motion and lighting devices that may prove distracting to motorists.
Additionally, they also talked about how religious displays are allowed. Sometimes, the board noted, holidays overlap. Edinberg said there should be some paperwork so that the town manager can keep track and make sure rotary displays don’t turn into a safety hazard.
Marshall said that the amount of time each display would remain should be regulated. The policy should also detail consequences if the signs and/or displays are not removed, she suggested.
It should be clear that town departments, like veterans, are able to mark Veterans Day and Memorial Day with signs, Edinberg said, but they should notify the town manager of their plans. That allowance would be for departments and not town boards and committees, he said.
Vice Chair Ian Johnson said that he wanted to see the policy simplified and said it would make more sense to say what is allowed and leave the discussion at that. Any deviation would need the town manager or board’s approval, he said.
“How far do we go?” Welch said. “It’s a difficult tightrope we’ve got to walk here.”
“I appreciate the work, but I’m wondering are we trying to do too much?” Johnson added.
Marshall said that there is the possibility of too many groups or people wanting to simultaneously support something. “I worry about it becoming like a circus of signs,” she said.
Welch thanked his colleagues on the board for their input and will continue to revise the policies.