Italian festival flags removed from utility poles in Southington per new ordinance

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — Italian flags won’t be hanging from lampposts during this year’s Italian-American Festival but will instead be displayed by Center Street property owners.

The flags on town-owned land and lampposts are no longer allowed following the passage of an ordinance that limits flags on public lands to those representing government organizations only.

Members of the Italian-American festival committee, representing three Italian clubs in town, put the flags up this month on lampposts along Center Street. The flag’s presence was considered by Town Attorney Alex Ricciardone who said they did fall under the ordinance that was passed in April. They were taken down this week, according to David Zoni, Unico’s representative on the festival committee. 

“It’s been a tradition that we put up those flags. Unfortunately this year we ran into the ordinance issue,” Zoni said. “A few of the business owners have been asked if we can put the flags on their buildings. They’re cooperating, we just haven’t done it yet.”

In previous years, American and Italian flags have been flown from alternating lampposts and poles along Center Street. The festival is funded by Unico, Sons of Italy and Sorelle d’Italia, three local Italian-American organizations. It is scheduled for July 29 to July 31.

Party-line vote

Republicans and Democrats have clashed about the ordinance. Republicans, who proposed the ordinance, said it was needed to avoid lengthy and distracting debates over the suitability of flags. Republicans also cited a successful lawsuit against Boston from a group that wanted to fly a flag and was denied.

The ordinance passed the council with six Republican votes in favor and three Democratic votes in opposition.

Democrats said they wanted a process for selecting which flags are appropriate to fly on town property.

Victoria Triano, Town Council chairwoman and a Republican, said it was too bad that the flags had to come down but said the ordinance has to be evenly applied.

“What’s fair for one is fair for all,” she said. “This is not a slap against my Italian heritage or anyone else’s.”

The ordinance was modified last month to allow banners in support of town sports teams and at town events such as the Apple Harvest. As a private event, the Italian-American festival isn’t included.

Private flags for festival

Triano said nothing stops business owners and the Sons of Italy, which has a building on Center Street, to put out their own flags on private property.

“When it becomes governmental speech, we have to be very careful,” she said of public flags.

Zoni said he would have liked to see an exception for national flags given the number of ethnicities represented in Southington.

“If they thought about it a little more, they might have been able to figure a solution concerning national flags,” he said. “We have ethnic groups in this town that have national origins. I think you could have made a line of demarcation between a flag of national origin and some other flag for a special interest group.”

Process vs. prohibition

Tony D’Angelo, a member of the ordinance committee who opposed the flag restrictions, said he wanted a process to evaluate which flags could be flown. He described the ordinance as “unwelcoming.”

“We wanted the flags to be permitted, but we wanted a process,” D’Angelo said. Flags such as a Confederate flag wouldn’t be flown since each request would be vetted.

“Those are hate groups. We would knock those out,” he said.

Triano said Democrats haven’t put forward any specific proposals about the process they want. Deferring the decision to Town Manager Mark Sciota or others wouldn’t necessarily remove liability from the town.

“He never defines what that process is,” Triano said.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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