Date: December 1, 2009
Byline: Scott Gutierrez
Woodinville rapped for not lowering flag after police killings
Some Woodinville residents and the city's police officers are irked at city officials for not lowering the city's flag in honor of five area police officers slain the past month.
The city's flag was lowered to half-staff Tuesday after the governor issued an order to state agencies to honor four Lakewood officers killed Sunday. But some people complain that Woodinville officials balked at doing it sooner.
City officials also declined Woodinville police officers' request last month to lower the flag in honor of a Seattle officer fatally shot in the line of duty in October.
Woodinville's City Clerk Jennnifer Kuhn said the city's policy is to lower the flag to half-staff only when ordered by the governor's office or by the president. On Tuesday, city officials followed Gov. Chris Gregoire's order to state agencies to lower flags in honor of a fallen soldier from Marysville and the four Lakewood officers who were killed Sunday. The city has followed the same policy since 1993, Kuhn said.
"I understand what people were feeling. I shed a tear, too, when I heard about what happened on TV. But if other people come in, who are not from the local area, and ask us to fly the flag, we have to have some kind of policy or protocol in place to know when to fly the flag at half-staff," she said. "We respect that people are asking. We hope they in turn acknowledge what our protocol is."
While Woodinville isn't obligated to follow the governor's Tuesday order, the city was planning to do so because she had issued the directive.
There had been three complaints Monday, Kuhn said. Kuhn said the city respects police officers and pointed out that the mayor honors law enforcement officers every year with a proclamation on May 15.
While the federal flag code is specific about when a state governor or the president can order flags flown at half-staff, it does not prohibit local cities or counties from putting flags at half-staff on their own. King County and Seattle officials have ordered flags at their agencies to remain at half-staff until after the officers' funerals, and both did so after the Seattle officer was killed in October.
On Monday, one day after the Lakewood shootings, resident Michaela Johnson noticed the city's flag flying full-staff and stopped at City Hall to ask why it hadn't been lowered. A city official explained the city's policy to her, she said, and she was disgusted.
"This is such a small thing to do," said Johnson, whose father and brother were both law enforcement officers in Omaha, Nebraska. "These officers were executed and I think it's appalling for them not to show any respect."
The city's police officers, who are King County Sheriff's deputies on contract with Woodinville, were disappointed last month when the city declined their request to lower the flag outside City Hall on more than a single day in honor of Seattle police Officer Tim Brenton, who was fatally shot Oct. 31. They were surprised because other agencies still had their flags lowered to honor the officers, said police Chief John McSwain, who has a sergeant's rank in the Sheriff's Office.
Woodinville's police department is housed in City Hall and the flag is visible from McSwain's office, he said. The flag was lowered only briefly for a day, McSwain said. He personally asked the city manager why it couldn't be lowered again and was told about the policy, he said.
"I told him that I didn't agree with him but that it was is his choice as city manager," McSwain said.
Some of the city's officers also are veterans and felt the city's stance was disrespectful. With an officer killed in the line of duty, they felt the flag should serve as visual remembrance of people who serve and defend their country and communities, he said.
"This is an emotional issue for these guys," McSwain said. "If something like that happened to me, I'd like to know my community was going to recognize that."
Johnson said she has called and e-mailed other residents to ask them to pressure City Hall to change the policy. She's also called radio stations and other news media because she thinks the decision is disrespectful. She doesn't understand what would be so difficult about granting the request. She wanted to speak with City Manager Rich Leahy on Monday, but was asked to leave after waiting about 20 minutes, she said.
On Tuesday, Gregoire issued two directives for all flags at state agencies to be lowered in honor of the four officers — Ronald Owens, Greg Richards, Tina Griswold, and Sgt. Mark Renninger — and in honor of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant John J. Cleaver of Marysville, who was killed last week in Afghanistan. The flags are to remain lowered in honor of the officers until after their funerals on Dec. 8
Under the federal Flag Code, the governor has authority to order state agencies to lower flags "in the event of the death of a present or former government official of the government of any state, territory or possession of the United States, or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from any state, territory, or possession who died while serving active duty."
Owens was a state trooper before joining Lakewood police.
State flags also were lowered last week in honor a Transportation Department worker killed while clearing debris from a state highway, governor's office spokeswoman Karina Shagren said.
Absent a presidential directive, however, the governor does not have authority over city or county jurisdictions. However, there is no law prohibiting local agencies from lowering their flags without a presidential or gubernatorial directive, Shagren said
"There is nothing to stop local jurisdictions from doing so. There is nothing preventing them from doing it," she said.
The Woodinville Fire Department lowered its flag Monday afternoon after a request from the Washington Fire Chiefs Association in honor of the officers, spokesman David Weed said.
The federal Flag Code says the president may order the flag flown at half-staff "upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a state, territory, or possession, as a mark or respect to their memory." The flag also is supposed to be flown at half-staff "30 days from the death of a president or former president," or 10 days from the death of a vice president or chief justice.
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