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New flagpole will be installed in front of Watertown City Hall

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WATERTOWN — Flags have traditionally flown in front of City Hall for occasions celebrating Ireland, Israel, Germany and Italy.

But Councilman Patrick J. Hickey wants to avoid an issue when two groups request their flags be flown on the same day.

That’s what happened last June, when supporters of Gay Pride month and the Juneteenth Celebration — honoring the 1865 formal liberation of slaves in Texas, the last Confederate state with institutional slavery — asked to fly their flags at the same time and day in front of City Hall.

Both groups wanted their flag to get top billing.

The situation left the city trying to figure out what to do without offending either group. A compromise resolved the issue.

Nonetheless, Councilman Hickey proposed installing a third flagpole in front of the Washington Street building to avoid similar situations in the future.

“I support diversity,” Councilman Hickey said. “Our country was built on that diversity. Our community was built on immigrants coming to this country.”

On Monday night, the City Council voted 3-2 to spend $7,900 to install a third flagpole.

The new pole will be installed on the opposite side of where flagpoles displaying the U.S. and New York flags now stand.

But critics say the new flagpole will cause division in the community and that the city shouldn’t spend money on it.

Former council candidate Benjamin P. Shoen thinks that a new pole with a flag representing a special interest group could cause dissension in the community.

“It could divide us,” he said, adding that only flags of other nations should fly in front of City Hall.

Calling it “significantly more valuable,” Mr. Shoen would have liked to have seen the city spend the $7,900 on projects such as installing 50 to 60 sidewalk blocks along city streets.

In opposing the third flagpole, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith contended that his office only gets seven or eight requests a year for flags, so it doesn’t make sense to put up another flagpole. He approves them and then they typically fly for 24 hours and then are taken down.

While it might be well-intentioned to promote diversity, the mayor wondered what will happen when a group’s flag and their cause are offensive to the public.

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