The Oak Bluffs Select Board approved some modifications to the town’s flag policy Tuesday evening, after years of lengthy talks and public hearings regarding if, and how, non-federally-recognized flags ought to be displayed on town property.
The changes come largely in response to the overwhelming demand from the public to raise the LGBTQ Progress Pride flag and the Juneteenth flag on a town flagpole, in honor of Pride Month and Juneteenth.
The amended policy will allow Oak Bluffs to utilize a flagpole solely for ceremonial flags for up to 14 days at a time.
This is in addition to the town’s official flagpole that will remain strictly for the U.S., Massachusetts, Oak Bluffs, and official military and POW-MIA flags.
Attorney Michael Goldsmith, serving as town council Tuesday, reiterated previous sentiments of attorney Ron Rappaport last year, which emphasized the legality of a municipality flying flags as a form of government speech.
Because which flags to fly, and for how long, will be at the discretion of the select board, Goldsmith said the town wouldn’t be speaking on behalf of any particular group, but rather as the town itself.
The board will not be considering applications requesting any specific flag be displayed, although ideas of which flags to raise may stem from the public. The board is tasked with discussing and making those decisions as a group on behalf of the town.
This was cause for concern for select board member Jason Balboni, who noted that there’s a fine line between public input and a formal request.
He said he’d prefer if there was a clear “procedure” on how to decide what flags to fly. “I want to make sure that whatever we do is done properly,” he said.
Select board chair Emma Green-Beach, who’s been involved with drafting a more inclusive flag policy for the better part of a year, emphasized that the board is elected by the people of the town, and it behooves the select board to take into account the desires of its constituents.
The five select board members “can’t always know all the things the community wants collectively,” she said. “We must also rely on the community telling us what they want, and how they want their representatives or government to represent them.”
The board will welcome public opinions and ideas, select board member Gail Barmarkian said. But “it [will be] a discussion amongst ourselves; not necessarily representing the person that’s asking for it.”
On moving forward, the board must do right by the people of the town,” Green-Beach said. “We will do our due diligence.”
One major detail that hasn’t been hammered out yet is the location of the ceremonial flagpole; as of Tuesday, it’s uncertain whether the town will be designating an existing pole as the ceremonial one, or if, in the future, they’ll vote to erect an entirely new pole.
Because modifications were made to the flag policy on the floor Tuesday, the select board plans on presenting a final version at its next meeting. It also plans on discussing further details on the ceremonial flagpole and potential flag raising at a later date.
The board voted unanimously to accept the policy, and per the motion, “establishes guidelines for the Town of Oak Bluffs, acting through its Select Board, for the display of governmental flags, including official flags of the U.S., Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Town of Oak Bluffs and other flags, including ceremonial flags as amended.”
Also on Tuesday, the select board welcomed Cape and Islands district attorney Rob Galibois via Zoom, who provided some updates on initiatives supported by his office.
Galibois was sworn into office in January, after winning the seat in a landslide against Republican candidate Dan Higgins. Galibois is the first Democrat in the role since 1971.
During his Tuesday update, the DA said he’s successfully opened an independent office for the Cape and Islands attorney office, located on the second floor of the Edgartown Police Station.
A year-round Vineyard resident has already been hired to work in that office, Galibois said, to “have a daily presence.”
Upon his inauguration, Galibois appointed Jessica Elumba to assistant district attorney, making her the first woman in the Cape and Islands office history to have the job.
Under Elumba’s leadership, the first ever unsolved-homicide unit was formed, Galibois said. Through that unit, “within the first two months, we brought charges against two individuals charged with murder in a case that dated back to 2011,” he said.
The DA’s office has also launched a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee headed by a member of the Falmouth Select Board.
Galibois shared that he’d like Oak Bluffs officials to consider taking part in that committee.
The office is in the process of establishing a mental health court session in Barnstable, which would be able to take over Edgartown cases.
The mental health court is “a speciality court where professionals in the field would come right into the courtroom and work with the defendant to identify the issue that the defendant is struggling with, and therefore, know what to treat,” Galibois said.
“By treating the issue that someone is struggling with, it increases the likelihood of reducing recidivism, therefore making us all safer.”
Preliminary discussions regarding a new “recovery court,” formerly known as drug court, are also underway, through a collaboration among the DA’s office, local judges, the chief probation officer, and the county sheriff’s department.