A Pride flag over Keizer city hall?

The Community Diversity Engagement Committee meets in the council chambers on Jan. 25 (KEIZERTIMES/Joey Cappelletti).

A City Council work group meeting June 13 addressing the slow progress of the Keizer Community Diversity Engagement Committee (CDE) since its formation in January could lead to Keizer flying a Pride flag over City Hall soon.

Toward the end of that meeting, City Councilor Roland Herrera and Mayor Cathy Clark had an exchange in which he challenged the mayor to do more, officially, to support diversity in the city and create what he called a more welcoming environment.

He offered some comments about the culture of the city and said the CDE itself needs a more welcoming environment in order to make real progress. He pointed to the fact that the mayors of other nearby cities had done more to promote diversity, such as flying the pride flag at city hall during the month of June in nearby Wilsonville.

Caridad Lee Brown, one of the committee’s newest members, also mentioned the lack of any visible official support for pride – and diversity in general – in Keizer during her introduction.

“I’ll give you an example,” said Brown. “People I know come up to me and ask why doesn’t the city of Keizer acknowledge June as pride month, why doesn’t it fly the [pride] flag? I don’t even know if we own one of those in the city.”

Clark later mentioned that Keizer had already designated June as pride month in the form of a proclamation. She said she had been unable to find out how to move forward with a pride flag or official pride banner display because the city lacks a relevant ordinance. She said Coos Bay had successfully worked out some problems which Keizer has been unable to solve, thus far.

“It does get into a slippery slope because of public speech versus government speech,” she said. “And we don’t have a program in place for banners, flags, etcetera on the public spaces at this time. Coos Bay did the work and they documented it last summer.”

During his remarks, Herrera listed some local mayors by name which he felt were doing more to promote diversity and create a welcoming environment. Clark asked Herrera if the cities he mentioned had ordinances governing placement of banners and flags.

“No they just have the will to show folks that they are inclusive,” said Herrera. “That’s all it is – it’s not a big deal, really. It’s low-hanging fruit. I don’t know if they did a resolution like we did, but the point is they made it happen.”

Clark responded that in her view, an ordinance is required.

“If you are going to engage in public speech, you have to have a program to allow for that,” she said, citing recent problems in Boston, MA with flag and banner placement guidelines.

At this point, City Attorney Shannon Johnson joined the conversation by explaining that the city itself has certain rights and can set up a program allowing for the display of certain flags and not others.

“The city as an entity has its own speech rights,” said Johnson.

He said a program that restricted the flag and banner guideline decisions to the city council’s members would allow Keizer to fly the pride flag, for example – but if the city bases those decisions on input from an open public forum, then it would be “picking and choosing,” which creates speech problems.

Clark said she would direct staff to look into how Coos Bay managed their ordinance, and would make it a priority.