BY JASON STARR
The Black Lives Matter flag will fly above Town Hall in Williston.
The selectboard voted 3-2 Tuesday to raise the symbol starting March 1 and ending June 21, approving a motion from board member Ted Kenney that followed a request from a group of citizens.
The request was originally submitted in October and the board deliberated on it at three separate meetings, collecting about 140 written and verbal public comments that revealed strong opinions among residents both for and against the idea.
The flag already flies at local public schools, approved in 2020 by the Champlain Valley School Board.
In making the motion to fly the flag for four months, Kenney said he separates the sentiment “black lives matter” from the organization of the same name. Residents who spoke against the proposal Tuesday called the organization an extremist political group.
Board member Joy Limoge, who said she received “hate mail” as a result of her previously stated opposition to the request, voted with Gordon St. Hilaire to oppose the motion. Jeff Fehrs and Terry Macaig voted with Kenney to approve.
“Black Lives Matter is a political organization … with a radical agenda,” said Limoge.
She believes the board overstepped its bounds with the approval.
“This is not what our function is,” she said.
St. Hilaire objected because he hoped to put the question to town voters.
After the vote, Macaig directed town administrators to acquire the flag and raise it on March 1. At a meeting in June, the board plans to consider whether to extend the display.
Several residents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, some urging the board to approve the proposal and others urging the board to reject it.
“It would make me feel incredibly proud that Williston was able to use its voice to talk about a more just and equitable society,” said resident Jerry Greenfield, noting the country’s history of slavery and unequal treatment of black people. “To address the inequality in our history, you have to be willing to speak out about things that aren’t right.”
Resident Cindy Provost asked the board what the flag display will accomplish and said it will deface the town’s historic village.
“Will it really improve how people act or think,” she asked. “I personally feel it will be something that will divide the town more, rather than bring it together. I don’t feel like we have to have a banner to make people think we will include everybody in our town.”
Fehrs said the flag display is a first step toward addressing racial inequality in Williston.
“I believe we are a just and caring community, but we need to do better,” he said. “It takes courage to admit racism does exist in our community and we want to address that.”