Flagged: Mayor may veto city flag ballot initiative

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MANCHESTER, NH – A group that has spent nearly a year organizing an open public process for selecting an iconic city flag design to help market Manchester to tourists and visitors, and instill a sense of community pride in natives, have heard that Mayor Ted Gatsas intends to veto their effort to put the question to the people on the November ballot, should the full board vote in favor of the initiative.

Adam Hlasny, a city resident and flag historian who brought the idea to the Board of Alderman, has written an Op/Ed to help clear up any misconceptions about the Manchester Waves City Flag initiative.

When contacted Friday Gatsas did not confirm or deny plans to veto the measure during the July 18 Board of Aldermen meeting, but provided the following statement on his stance:

“Manchester’s flag comprised of the City Seal is steeped in our city’s history.  It tells the story about the foundation of our city and it’s important that we cherish that history. ‘LABOR VINCIT interpreted literally means ‘industry triumphs,’ and is an homage to the mills that built this city, and today with the transformation of the Millyard to a high-tech hub that still remains true.  Manchester’s history is rich and it is represented well in our city seal and our current flag.  I am not in favor of changing Manchester’s flag I’ve been very clear on this from the beginning.”

First and foremost, says Hlasny, the new design is not a replacement for the city seal, adopted in 1846, which currently serves as a de facto city flag 

“In Manchester, the flag and seal are currently one and the same. A new flag does not replace our seal. The city seal and our motto, “Labor Vincit” will continue to serve as an inspiration, a somber reminder of the countless years’ labor that made our city a worldwide dynamo, as well as a symbol of Manchester’s natural features. The city seal will continue to appear on official city documents and be used, as it has in the past, at official city functions. Adopting a new flag just augments the seal and provides us with a visual symbol of the city that is instantly recognizable at a distance,” writes Hlasny [read the complete op/ed here.]

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Flag committee members, from left, John Clayton (judge), Daniel Bérubé (judge) , and Adam Hlasny, who brought the idea forward.

Hlasny also points out that the initiative is being paid for solely by money raised by volunteers, at no cost to the city, including the printing of color ballots (funded by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce) so that all three final flag designs – and the city seal – can be added to the November municipal election ballot. Voters would be asked to select their favorite design in a non-binding referendum, which means that final say defaults to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, post-election.

What’s more baffling to members of the flag committee is that the Aldermanic committee on Administration and Information Systems voted unanimously on June 20 to recommend the full board approve placing the flags on the ballot. The discussion lasted less than three minutes and included no controversy.

Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, a member of that committee, said Friday he thinks the competition is a “neat idea,” and while he agrees with Gatsas on the nobility of the city seal as a flag, he doesn’t understand why Gatsas would veto the measure.

I think 13 aldermen will vote to let the people decide. I agree with the Mayor’s statement, but I also like the idea of letting people weigh in on something like this; it’s a non-binding issue. The Mayor didn’t veto it when it came up initially, or went to committee,” says Levasseur. “I understand there were more than 200 submissions, which means there’s a lot of people already involved.”

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A sea of submissions for the Manchester Waves flag design competition. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Levasseur said he sees it as an interesting “litmus test” to help city officials gauge how residents regard the idea, and view Manchester’s image as a city.

“I would like to reward hard work, and the hard work has been done by a lot of people who’ve been working on it. I say let’s have a go at it. We as aldermen are not the harbingers of the future. I’d like to see what people are thinking. It’s a good litmus test, to find out whether people want to keep the tradition going, or possibly give us an idea that there’s a whole new generation of people in Manchester who want to go in a different direction – to see  what voters think of our past, present and future,” Levasseur said. “Let the mayor who gets elected decide if they want to veto whatever the people decide on election day.”

Joyce Craig, who is so far Gatsas’ only opponent for mayor, also offered a statement on the flag initiative, when asked about it:

“I support the effort to place city flag designs on November’s ballot. It was wonderful to see so many people engaged in this project. Students, community leaders, and residents submitted hundreds of designs to represent Manchester’s history and be a symbol for our city’s future. I think its a great way to spark discussion about the direction we want for Manchester, and I’d love to see what residents choose.”

⇒ RELATED: VIDEO – NH Chronicle examines Manchester’s “flag dilemma” in this segment [Manchester flag initiative beings at the 5 minute mark.]

The idea for a city flag gained momentum after it was brought before the board back in August of 2016. A competition was launched and 288 submissions poured in from around the world, although most of the entries, including the three chosen in a blind elimination process by a panel of judges, were designed by artists with Manchester ties, including city students – some who came as immigrants and refugees [see letter below].

Three final designs were selected by committee with the understanding that they would be featured on the November ballot so that the residents of the city could decide which flag they prefer.

Although Levasseur says he feels confident voters will support the city seal as their favorite, he favors allowing the initiative to go before the voters. He also points out that, to his knowledge, the city seal is a protected image, and is not allowed to be used as a promotional “logo.” That is a key part of the Manchester Waves initiative, to create a sense of pride with a simple, iconic and unifying image that could be used not only on flags, but on a wide range of promotional items, from publications and lapel pins, to hats, T-shirts or other “city swag,” according to the competition organizers.

Levasseur, for one, would like to test that theory.

“I expect the flag we have will pass by a bajillion-to-one, so I have no problem with City of Manchester viewing the four flags and seeing howthe city wants to go forward,” Levasseur says.

BONUS: Flag primar 101: What makes a flag a good flag?

The city flag initiative is on the agenda for the July 18, 2017 Mayor and Board of Aldermen meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Carol Rines Center, 1528 Elm St. Members of the Manchester Waves committee would like to invite the public to attend and participate in the public comment session, which begins at 7 p.m. Arrive early to sign up.

Below: Letter from Central High School teacher Sheila Droney, whose students participated in the flag design competition.

About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!