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Source: MassLive.com
Date: September 28, 2008
Byline: John Appleton

Belchertown flag policy up in the air

BELCHERTOWN — For the past 12 years, the town has had a policy allowing selectmen to order flags lowered to half staff to honor deceased town officials or town employees, but selectmen are now considering doing away with this practice.

The Veterans Advisory Committee brought the issue to the selectmen's attention and is recommending that Belchertown stick with national protocols for the American flag.

The veterans committee recommended that a way of honoring town officials and employees who die would be to erect a second flagpole at Town Hall with a Belchertown town flag that could be lowered for such occasions.

The selectmen discussed this issue Monday, but, rather than take a vote on the existing policy, they called for public input on the question over the next two weeks.

"What they have been doing was not proper national flag etiquette. The right thing to do is just follow the procedure," said George D. Archible, an associate member of the Veterans Advisory Committee and the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8428.

Under the federal flag code written in 1942, only the U.S. president and state governors have the authority to order that flags be lowered.

Belchertown Veterans Agent Raymond J. Janke reported the advisory committee's recommendations to the selectmen Monday.

"The gist is to follow the flag code for all flags in town," Janke said. The advisory committee recommended that the town could honor deceased Belchertown veterans by having an American flag at the cemetery of internment lowered on the day of the funeral.

Selectman Ronald E. Aponte said he is inclined to change the Belchertown policy and adhere strictly to the national etiquette of having flags lowered only on the order of the president or the governor.

"Let's follow the letter of the law," Aponte said.

He also said he supports the idea of a second flag pole at Town Hall with a Belchertown flag that could be lowered as a way of honoring town officials and employees who die.

Selectmen Gerald A. Grasso and Alfred J. Roccanti said they are comfortable with the recommendations from the Veterans Memorial Advisory Board.

Selectmen's Chairman Michael J. Reardon said he would like to hear public comment before the board decides this issue.

He scheduled a discussion and a formal vote for Oct. 6.

Selectman James A. Barry said he is sympathetic to the concerns of always following a specific protocol and not leaving it up to the Board of Selectmen to decide on occasions to lower the flag.

Barry said he has reservations about whether lowering a Belchertown town flag would have the same impact when honoring a deceased town police officer or firefighter and said he wants to hear from the public before deciding.

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