To the editor:
I am writing to express my disappointment with the Aug. 31 editorial “Missed opportunity in Danvers.” I am one of the selectmen who will be hosting Wednesday’s community conversation on the flag controversy in Danvers, but I write now as a concerned citizen. I agree that a public discussion should, and will, occur, but the editors are misinformed on several key points in the piece.
First, the paper accepted the ambiguous (and false) assertion in the fire union’s August 24 press release that the altered gray American flags with a blue line have flown on town vehicles since 2018. Our fire chief himself disputed this in an Aug. 24 email to the manager, which was published on Aug. 29 in The Salem News, noting the flags appeared the week prior to the town manager’s request. The fire union publicly corrected this ambiguity in Tuesday’s Salem News, eight days after it was released into my community.
On July 30, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts published a statement (just weeks prior to the flying of these flags in Danvers) encouraging their members to fly the thin blue line flag, in part, in response to “anti-labor legislation on Beacon Hill” and “anti-police rhetoric in the media.” This is when the altered American flag first appeared on a Danvers town vehicle.
Second, the paper suggests that our town manager operated outside of his authority in removing the flags. This is not true. The Salem News has been around for as long as the Danvers Town Manager Act (adopted in 1949), so I’m disappointed the paper didn’t do its homework on our form of government. Mr. Bartha acted within his authority. He asked his employees to remove a political symbol they installed without permission on town property, which the Town Manager Act places in his care and custody. Instead of complying, the request was leaked to the media.
Calling our town manager a dictator, as the paper did on the eve of our community conversation, is as ridiculous as it is unhelpful. That name calling is, to me heartbreaking and disappointing. He is an appointed official who acted within his authority. He makes hundreds of executive decisions in the course of his duties that do not require selectmen approval. He explained his decision to the police chief, fire chief, and the fire union, and notified the chair of my board of his decision. We don’t name-call in my hometown of nearly 78 years.
I do agree that all sides of this issue should have a chance to discuss this openly and respectfully. That is why my colleagues and I scheduled our meeting for Wednesday night.
Finally, I believe the paper is wrong for suggesting that whether to display a political symbol on town vehicles should be reduced to a “popularity contest” or that the thin blue line flag is somehow comparable to either the POW flag or the rainbow flag, but I will save those thoughts, which are my own, for the public discussion on Wednesday.
David A. Mills