The Decorah City Council voted down an event application 4-3 for a June 14 birthday party for President Donald Trump that included hanging 33 Trump flags along Water Street in downtown Decorah.
The Winneshiek County Republicans had planned the party for Trump’s birthday, which also is Flag Day. The Republicans have now requested to postpone the party until Thursday, July 4, and have agreed to modify their flags.
The Council reviewed the special event application submitted by County Republican Chairman Tom Hansen during its meeting Monday night.
The purpose of the event is “to celebrate the birth of the man promoting the ideals of liberty, justice and equality upon which America was founded,” Hansen said in his application.
The party was planned for noon to 1 p.m. in Water Street Park, next to the Oneota Community Food Co-op, off Water Street. Hansen said the event planned for July 4 will be at the same time and location.
In conjunction with the party, Hansen asked permission to fly presidential flags on Water Street. The red, white and blue flags state: “President Trump,” and below it “Make America Great Again!”

30-day requirement
Council member Steve Luse said the application was not submitted within the city’s new 30-day application period requirement and should not be approved.
Hansen said an exception should be made because he submitted his application within 22 days of the event -- just eight days short of the requirement -- and the event would not require extensive city services, unlike the recent Pride Fest, which he said involved rerouting traffic for a parade.
Mayor Lorraine Borowski expressed concern about having another flag flown on Flag Day “when we already have an American flag up on flag day representing all of us, including the president.”
City Manager Chad Bird said Luther College and Decorah High School flags were flown in recognition of graduation along with U.S. flags Memorial Day weekend.
Borowski said she’s also heard from constituents that the Trump flag is a political flag.
“Are you trying to say the gay pride flags had no political message?” Hansen asked.
Borowski said Pride Fest was not an event put on by Republicans or Democrats.
Council member Kirk Johnson and Andy Carlson said “Make America Great Again” has been Trump’s campaign slogan, and is a slogan he is using again for the 2020 race.
Johnson said flag etiquette is against using the U.S. flag in conjunction with advertisements. But he said whether he agreed with the request or not, he has First Amendment concerns about denying it.
Hansen said Luther College is a private college and a college flag was hung next to the American Flag on Memorial Day weekend.

‘Honorable’
Council member Johanna Bergan said it is “appropriate and honorable” to organize events in honor of a president, but that the use of the Make America Great Again slogan gave her “pause.”
“The connection of Make America Great Again in connection to a current presidential campaign – that phrase has me on the fence about this because we’re actively in a campaign season. With all the candidates coming to our community on a regular basis, that’s my hesitation,” she said.
“It’s the slogan I have an issue with,” said Carlson adding he’d be “just fine” with the flags if they only said the president’s name.
Council member Dan Bellrichard said flags should have a broad appeal and represent a wide cross-section of residents.
Council member Randy Schissel said everyone has a different view point.
“We don’t always agree, but in the end, the community finds agreement,” he said.
Schissel, made a motion to approve the event application. Schissel, Johnson and Bergan voted in favor of the motion, while Council members Ross Hadley, Bellrichard, Carlson and Luse voted against it.
Hansen said he’d submit a similar event application for July 4, which would meet the 30-day requirement.
“It never hurts to reapply,” Hadley said.

Flags modified
After Monday’s meeting, Hansen said the consensus of the Council was the flags would be fine without Trump’s campaign slogan, so new flags without the slogan will be ordered for the event planned for July 4. He said there will be no event Friday, June 14, Trump’s birthday.
The Council is scheduled to consider the Republicans’ event application at its Monday, July 1 meeting.
“This is a free speech issue. People are talking about their big complaint is celebrating President Trump’s birthday and they don’t like him … it’s not about free speech if you’re going to have a governmental body assisting one group in getting their message out,” he said referring to Pride Fest and Luther College.
“The city should assist everyone equally,” Hansen said.

Amend policy
Luse recommended the city’s flag ordinance be amended to exclude hanging political flags.
Bird said the policy is in its trial year and could be readdressed.
“If you’re opposed to political messages, we can define that,” he said.
The policy could then be amended to state no political messages will be allowed on flags as defined by the city’s policy, Bird said.