Last time we checked, Danvers was a democracy, not a dictatorship. It seems the town manager forgot that fact, and in doing so missed an opportunity for leadership in troubled times.
Instead, when Steve Bartha ordered that “Thin Blue Line” flags be removed from the town’s fire trucks, he sparked a controversy that threatens to divide Danvers, not unite it.
After a complaint from a town resident, Bartha last week decided the flag “has the power to make marginalized members of our community feel unwelcome and unsafe.” Members of both the police and fire departments were caught off guard by the suggestion, and say the flags supporting police officers had been displayed since 2018. The controversy that ensued should have surprise no one, and was completely avoidable.
Bartha and other town officials have been inundated with emails since the decision was announced last Tuesday, and have scheduled a community forum for Wednesday at 5 p.m.
While we are glad there will be a full, public airing of the issue, in true democratic spirit, we can’t help but wonder why it didn’t happen before the decision was made. Why not take the issue to the Board of Selectmen, for all in town to hear Bartha discuss the issue with elected town leaders? Why not gather public input from citizens and town employees during an open, public hearing? Why not give firefighters and police officers, who were taken aback at the suggestion they make anyone feel “unwelcome and unsafe,” the opportunity to tell residents directly what the flag means to them?
Now, that discussion will happen Wednesday, but unfortunately it will occur in an environment fraught with anger and defensiveness. In many of the emails to town officials, and in conversations across Danvers, residents are wondering what’s next. Will the town ban Black Lives Matter flags from school buildings? Maybe officials will remove the POW flag from the Town Hall flagpole, or, the gay pride flag from outside the downtown ambulance station.
Bartha has created a slippery slope for himself, using his position as town manager to make a decision that should have been voted on by selectmen — the duly elected leaders of the town. Here’s hoping Wednesday’s meeting starts the town back on a more measured, less divisive path.