The Biloxi City Council now has an attorney general’s opinion supporting its right to vote on whether to fly the state flag with its Confederate battle symbol, but things have changed since the flag flap began this spring.
Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich ordered the flag down in April. He said Tuesday he hasn’t changed his position, so he likely would veto any attempt by council members to require the state flag fly at all city facilities.
Council President Paul Tisdale said it would take a super majority of 5 of the 7 council members voting for the state flag to override a veto.
“My vote would be to support the mayor and his position to not fly the flag,” Tisdale said.
Councilman Felix Gines in May voted along with Tisdale to support the mayor’s decision to keep the flag down.
“I’m in hopes that the other council members will, as they say, let sleeping dogs lie,” Gines said Wednesday.
The attorney general’s opinion received Monday and presented at the council meeting Tuesday said the council can introduce a resolution “if we chose to,” Gines said. It would stand only until a new council is elected and Gines said, “I don’t want to go through a fight every four years.”
There was no discussion of the attorney general’s opinion by the council after it was presented Tuesday.
“Nobody said a word,” Gines said, and Tisdale said he doesn’t expect any action this month.
The last regular meeting for August is Aug. 22, and the agenda is set by 11 a.m. Aug. 17. Tisdale, who frequently objects to items being added to the agenda on meeting day, said a resolution is unlikely to be accepted if it’s not presented by the deadline.
City officials across South Mississippi are being pressured to remove the state flag, with Pascagoula Mayor Dane Maxwell the latest to take it down.
The battle over the flag in Biloxi has created tension and division among city officials and residents. Demonstrations by people on both sides of the issue were held outside City Hall in May, and the state flags were brought into the council meetings.
On May 9, Councilman Robert Deming III introduced a resolution requiring the state flag fly at all city buildings. On May 23 the council voted to ask the attorney general to determine if the mayor or the council should decide the flag issue.
Councilwoman Dixie Newman introduced an amendment May 9 asking the state Legislature to consider changing the flag and replacing it with one that will unite rather than divide the citizens of Mississippi.
The resolution said the flag “invokes strong emotions by all who care deeply about this state, and is for many a reminder of slavery and the divisions that existed during the Civil War, and of divisions that persist.” It said the emblem “has been appropriated by many people and organization who have no care or concern about Mississippi — its heritage, its culture or its people — and who use it as a self-serving symbol of a divisive agenda.”
Gines, Newman, Deming and Tisdale voted in favor of asking for a new flag while councilman George Lawrence, Kenny Glavan and then Councilman David Fayard voted against. Fayard decided not to run for another term on council and Nathan Barrett now represents Ward 7.
All other states except Mississippi have removed Confederate symbols from their flags. Mississippi voters chose in April 2001 to keep the flag, but the state Legislature has the authority to change it.
No special session to take rebel symbol off Mississippi flag
A spokesman says Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant won’t call legislators back to the Capitol to consider removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag.
The Legislative Black Caucus says Bryant should set a special session because white supremacists marched with the battle flag last weekend in Virginia.
Mississippi has the last state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem – a red field with a blue tilted cross topped with white stars.
The Black Caucus chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes of Gulfport, says the “square of hatred” needs to disappear from the Mississippi flag.
Bryant spokesman Knox Graham said Wednesday the governor still believes voters should decide the flag design.
People who voted in a 2001 statewide election chose to keep the flag used since 1894.