Westborough veterans banner proposal prompts discussion over ‘loophole’ in policy

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flag hanging from light pole. Blue background.
A flag hangs from a light post on West Main Street in Westborough. The Westborough Veterans Advisory Board recently sought approval from the Select Board to run a new “Hometown Heroes” banner initiative honoring local veterans. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

WESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Veterans Advisory Board will move forward with plans to honor local veterans through “Hometown Heroes” banners on downtown light poles.

But it may have to adapt those plans after the Select Board opted not to approve a full exception to a policy dictating that banners can only hang for 90 days at a time. 

“I’m very supportive of this, but I do think that it should be within the construct of our current policy,” Select Board member Shelby Marshall said after hearing a presentation from Veterans Advisory Board representatives at the Select Board’s Nov. 9 meeting. 

Veterans Advisory Board backs banner project

Jim Tepper opened that Veterans Advisory Board presentation, detailing a plan to honor veterans with banners funded through the collaboration of families, friends and outside sponsors. 

All honorably discharged Westborough veterans, living and deceased, will be eligible for a banner. Those currently serving in the armed forces will also be eligible. 

The program will ideally kick off on Memorial Day, 2022 with 40 banners on town light poles, he said. It will then ideally expand over time, adding new banner spots on telephone poles in town and annually rotating individual banners if and when the number of banners exceeds the number of poles available to display them.  

“We do anticipate this to be a very popular program,” Tepper said. 

Select Board celebrates opportunity to honor vets

Select Board members expressed support for the program, noting similar displays in nearby communities. 

“I was very impressed by what they had done down there,” Sean Keogh said of a banner initiative in Bridgewater. “It is quite an upgrade to their downtown. I believe it says a lot about the character of their downtown. So I’m looking forward to this program in general.”

“I think this is a great thing,” Ian Johnson said. “It really is something that is pretty special.”

Proposal seeks exception to banner policy

Town Manager Kristi Williams said Nov. 9 that requests to hang banners from light poles would ordinarily go through her office.

This effort came before the Select Board, though, because it was specifically asking to hang banners from Memorial Day through Nov. 15, shortly after Veterans Day each year. That exceeds a 90-day limit that the Select Board previously placed on banner installations. 

Reiterating their support for the project, multiple Select Board members expressed concerns about the particular timetable, noting that other groups might want to hang their own banners at various points between mid-May and mid-November.

The Veterans Advisory Board had been seeking an exception to a policy limiting banner instillations to 90 days. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

Select Board Chair Allen Edinberg suggested the Veterans Advisory Board could plan to hang banners for the 90 days following May 15 in accordance with the light pole policy. The banners could then stay up beyond the end of those 90 days if no other groups had requested light pole space.

“I’m hesitant to make a half-year commitment that’s in perpetuity,” Edinberg said of his reluctance to approve the May 15 to Nov. 15 term outright.

“We have a policy,” Marshall said. “We’ve agreed to the policy. And as soon as we start making exceptions to the policy, then, I kind of say ‘why do we have a policy?’”

“I don’t think there is any question from the board of the importance of what you’re asking,” Patrick Welch told the Veterans Advisory Board. “It’s tremendously important. And we definitely see the value of it. The question is whether or not we want to bend the policy that we just established for good reason to allow this.”

Discussion continues 

Members of the Veterans Advisory Board reiterated their initial case.

“It’s going to be a lot of effort to do this, at some cost, and we feel the time frame of Memorial Day to Veterans Day gives some emphasis to the program and makes it worthwhile,” Paul Horrigan said. 

“It can’t be said enough, and it might be redundant,” Elysha O’Brien said, “but the whole point of this project is to honor veterans.”

The Select Board discussed the matter further, noting new concerns over whether groups would feel comfortable requesting banner space if that meant taking down veterans banners.

The board ultimately moved forward, though, approving a motion that would let other groups in town request to hang banners outside of the initial 90 days reserved for the Hometown Heroes program. Those Hometown Heroes banners will come down, in that case, if other groups request their space. If no groups request space though, the Hometown Heroes banners will be allowed to remain on display for another 90 days through Nov. 15.

The vote was 3-2, with Marshall, Welch and Edinberg voting in favor and Johnson and Keogh opposed.

Near the end of the discussion, Marshall noted a need to revisit what she described as a “loophole” in the light pole policy.

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