Jackson County

At emotional meeting, Ocean Springs passes ordinance to fly state flag

Ocean Springs aldermen attracted another packed house at City Hall on Tuesday as they let the residents know they intend to raise the state flag at all government buildings.
Ocean Springs aldermen attracted another packed house at City Hall on Tuesday as they let the residents know they intend to raise the state flag at all government buildings. klnelson@sunherald.com

There was a crowd of unhappy people Tuesday night who watched the Board of Aldermen vote to fly the state flag at City Hall, despite its design with a Confederate emblem.

Mayor Shea Dobson took it down last week, but on Tuesday, city leaders voted to make it a requirement to fly it not only at City Hall, but also at the other city buildings with a flag pole.

The dozens in the audience — business people, ministers, parents, teachers — talked of what a welcoming city Ocean Springs is and how disappointed they are that the city leaders would support a divisive symbol.

City Election Commissioner Robert Smith resigned because of the vote.

“See if you can run the city without volunteers,” he told the aldermen. “I’ll be talking to others. The vote is beyond deplorable. It will give us a bad name,” and cause a national ripple.

“You’re the only city board that has demanded, ‘go fly that rebel flag,’” Smith said.

Before the vote, Mayor Dobson said he raised the state flag over City Hall early in office out of enthusiasm, “with the sole intent of praising the state” and showing that Ocean Springs is part of the state.

It has caused division and outrage.

He told the room he took it down so the city could focus on other things like economic development and infrastructure. There were constituents who weren’t happy about that either.

He said, “This is a decision that should be made by the residents through their representatives on the Board of Aldermen.” He said he welcomed the vote.

They voted 6 to 1 to require it be flown. Alderman Rickey Authement was the lone alderman.

“That flag has not flown at City Hall for 10 years, and now it has to be up? I don’t know why,” Authement said. He said he supported the mayor taking it down.

“City Hall is a little different, it’s everyone’s house. It’s where everyone can come and voice their opinion,” he said.

It was an emotional meeting. Ocean Springs was characterized as a progressive and inclusive that is failing to live up to its image.

Alderman Mike Impey spoke out before the vote to both require the flag fly and to ask that the state call for another vote in Mississippi on the flag’s design.

“There’s nothing we or any city can do to change the flag,” Impey said, and pointed out that Ocean Springs needs state support. And he said he hasn’t had a request from his ward to take the flag down.

The pastor of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church said, “It harkens back to a time when my people were enslaved and abused ... a time when we had to go in the back of grocery stores.”

Others said, “please fly a flag that all can respect.”

The pastor at Christus Victor Lutheran Church asked if this was about winning an argument.

Others were concerned that this is happening during volatile times.

Kevin Ladd spoke and said that supporting the state flag doesn’t make him a racist. He said he has pride in his heritage.

Before public comment Dobson suggested a few people be selected to represent the issue.

He was met with boos and quick shouts: “Have you ever heard of free speech?”

So public comment went until everyone was finished.

Rebecca Alston said, “We weren’t warned when you put it up, and people think it was a ploy that you took it down ... I thought you had to let people know.”

She said she was afraid the city would lose young, talented people because of the stigma.

Some quoted the Bible about healing the land. Think of the children, some said.

Aldermen were told, “What you did was cowardly.”

They were reprimanded for not renouncing the recent trolling of the city’s Facebook live post, when what were believed to be covert racist terms were part of dozens of comments.

One older woman chastised the city leaders.

“I had to do this in the 60s. You’re going backwards,” she said.

Attorney Robert Wiygul told the board, “It’s a cop out to say you have to fly this flag to respect the state. There’s no law that says you have to fly it. You make the decision for yourself. You are choosing a side.”

In one resolution the aldermen acknowledge “the flag is known to be both opposed and supported by many citizens of Ocean Springs ...”