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Board apologizes over flag incident

Confederate symbol displayed during Ebensburg parade

Ebensburg resident Chris Miller addresses Borough Council at a town hall meeting on Wednesday to address concerns about the display of a Confederate flag during the borough’s Memorial Day parade. About 125 people attended the meeting and were largely in support of council’s suggestion to turn the event’s organization over to private group that could set guidelines on future participants. Mirror photo by Patt Keith

EBENSBURG — An apology from the president of Borough Council over its handling of complaints about a Confederate flag’s appearance at a Memorial Day parade was heard by an crowd of about 125 people who attended a town hall Wednesday night.

About 15 of the attendees spoke at the gathering at the Young Peoples Community Center.

All but two residents expressed disapproval of the Confederate flag, and the feelings of fear and intimidation it incites in residents of color.

Many attendees agreed with a proposal by Council President Doug Tusing to turn event organization over to other nonprofit groups, including the Main Street Program.

Two people disagreed with Tusing’s outline of steps moving forward — Chuck and Patti Bagley.

Chuck Bagley addresses Ebensburg Borough Council and expressed his view that there are “a million things more important” to be discussed than the Confederate flag’s appearance at a recent parade. His comments were met with some boos from the crowd, who largely spoke in favor of council’s plans. Mirror photo by Patt Keith

Chuck Bagley expressed his frustration that no one complains when residents drive German or Japanese manufactured vehicles and both countries were at one-time enemies of the United States.

“There are a million things more important” to be discussed than the Confederate flag’s appearance at a recent parade, he concluded, a comment that was met by a few boos.

Near the end of the public comment period, his wife said pointedly, “We are not racists. We have friends who are black. It takes us down a slippery slope by anyone who is offended,” she said. “What’s next? What if an atheist complains about the Dickens Christmas event? I’m not an atheist. Just because you don’t agree, doesn’t mean you advocate hate. We are speaking up for our First Amendment rights.”

Her comments were met by silence from the crowd.

Tempers flared briefly when black business woman and lawyer Dana Richardson spoke to the couple.

Tusing admonished Richardson to face and address council. She persisted and at one point asked “if they would be willing to trade places and take on my black skin and walk in my shoes.”

At that point, Chuck Bagley shouted, “No, because you people kill each other every weekend.”

After the meeting concluded, council member Scot May said he was pleased with the show of support from the community and with Tusing’s apology.

Tusing spoke at the start of the 75-minute session.

“From a purely legal perspective, the bottom line is this — a governmental body, the borough, does not have the constitutional authority to limit speech, including the display of flags or other symbols on public property. Period. Given that, although it may be deemed as offensive by some, the display of the flag was perfectly legal and constitutionally protected,” he said.

“… But as we all know, just because something is legal, (that) does not necessarily make it right.”

The crowd erupted into loud applause at this point. He went on to say no event or celebration should “become a divisive issue within our community. We want Ebensburg, and any events that take place within it, to be welcoming and family-friendly to all residents and visitors,” Tusing said.

He said that after receiving complaints following the parade, Tusing said, “our overall response as a borough was well below our own standards.” While the council was seeking a legal opinion “in the background,” it failed to communicate, which created a mistaken impression.

“We were slow to react and did a poor job of communicating in a timely manner with those who complained,” Tusing said. “I offer my most sincere apology to those that had initially reached out to us, as well as to all other borough residents who are being negatively affected by this situation.”

The audience gave Tusing a standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

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