by Linda Buermeyer, republished from the Journal-Opinion
EAST CORINTH—A proposal to spruce up Main Street with flags did not fly well with all Corinthians.
In an effort to improve the village’s appearance, Jon Ruggles and Wade Pierson formed the East Corinth Beautification Corporation, a nonprofit.
The ECBC is “dedicated to make East Corinth an even happier and healthier place to live,” Ruggles wrote in an email.
“The village has a serious blight in the core,” he added referring to a former general store in the heart of the village that has fallen into disrepair and is the target of a municipal health order.
Ruggles moved here from Idaho a couple of years ago. He preferred to communicate by email after his tongue was removed due to cancer.
“This isn’t my first time with beautification,” he wrote. “In Idaho I helped establish two major nonprofits; one that grew to planting over 2,000 flowers a year with over 275 hanging baskets.”
The East Corinth beautification idea was presented to the selectboard twice, first on March 7 and then, due to discussion and input from the attendees, with modifications on May 2.
The initial presentation proposed the flags for the utility poles which line Main Street at intervals. Flags would fly every day throughout the year. Small solar lights would illuminate the flags by night.
Green Mountain Power permits flags on its poles provided the flags are not controversial or political, according to Pierson and Ruggles.
Based on feedback, the pair submitted a modified plan proposing flags from Memorial Day through Veterans Day.
Lori Buik and Sarah Polli live in proximity to the old store. According to the March 7 meeting minutes, they supported the project and believe lighting will increase safety.
At that meeting, road foreman Joe Blodgett expressed that the flags would honor veterans and the display would not hinder plowing or other road work for the crew.
In a telephone conversation, village resident Anne McKinsey said she was opposed to the flag idea from the start and did not like the way it was first presented.
“I thought the whole thing was presented poorly … Mr. Ruggles went house to house … there was nothing on the survey showing the number of flags, how often they would be flown, whether it would have lights or not,” she said. “That was presented later.”
McKinsey said she has problems personally with the American flag and feels it has been co-opted by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
“I thought it would paint East Corinth Village as a right-wing village,” she said. “I got bad flak from the village. It was very hurtful and divisive.”
She continued, “An individual can’t just hang a flag from a pole. For safety reasons, it’s not allowed.”
McKinsey said she confirmed this through GMP Spokesperson Kristen Carlson.
Ruggles created a signed survey “so people would not think I fabricated the count—it was a warm 20 degrees when I knocked on doors and met the villagers for two Sundays.”
The survey of 26 households resulted in 24 in favor and only two against.
At the May meeting, the selectboard felt it could not endorse a project that did not include the consensus of the town.
It troubles proponents of the flags that objections were raised by those who do not live in the village.
Board chair Rick Cawley responded to the Journal Opinion’s question: what difference does it make to the whole town if it is East Corinth Village that puts up flags?
“East Corinth is not a municipality but is part of the town,” he said. “It is a historical hamlet. Someone came up with an idea but never had townwide or village-wide input. It is an issue for each individual landowner. The process was not inclusive.”
The board voted unanimously that it would not oppose any landowner who wishes to display an American flag from a utility pole on that landowner’s property.
Ruggles said, “The purpose of this Beautification Committee is to beautify hanging flags on ugly power poles to soften the industrial look and they are the low-hanging fruit of beautification. It’s not a political statement.”
“I don’t like the term that was used twice now that we are ‘self-appointed’ as though we are doing something underhanded,” Ruggles wrote. “I am uplifted by the young man that mows our grass who said, ‘Flags will change the Village from someplace you just drive through.’”
Like McKinsey, Ruggles has also endured hurtful comments.
“Being a new family [in the area] and just trying to help, after all we have been through is painful. This could have been a fun and joyous time.”
Currently, two test flags with solar lights have been affixed to utility poles.
Editor’s note: After this news story was published, Anne McKinsey submitted a letter that reads in part:
“The article states that I believe our national flag has been co-opted by supporters of former Pres. Trump. This was incorrectly reported.
Some radical extremists have tried to corrupt the flag and proclaim it as theirs—a big difference. Even Jon Ruggles stated to me that “the only time this flag has become divisive is when Trump weaponized it.” I agree with Mr. Ruggles; some may not. Having dozens of 3-by-5 American flags, installed by the ECBC, a private organization, along our road on public service utility poles for six months of the year runs the risk of mischaracterizing us as an extremist-leaning community. This worries me.”
Categories: Society & Culture