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Confederate conversation continues at Tupper Lake town board

TUPPER LAKE — The town board briefly discussed Confederate flags and a resolution that would have condemned them at a budget workshop meeting Thursday.

The resolution, presented by Councilman John Quinn at an Oct. 8 board meeting, did not get “seconded” by another board member, meaning it could not be discussed or voted on. In September the board had agreed Quinn would draft a resolution to be discussed and possibly voted on this month, as the Enterprise reported at the time.

The resolution would have asked people flying Confederate flags to consider taking them down, but would not have required it.

The decision to not talk about the resolution generated lots of discussion over the past week: in person, on social media and in numerous letters to the editor. Some residents were disappointed that the board did not pass or discuss the resolution. Others were disappointed the resolution was proposed in the first place.

Councilwoman Mary Fontana, who was absent from the Oct. 8 meeting, shared her thoughts on the matter at the Thursday budget workshop.

“To say that I am saddened, ashamed and offended by the reaction of members of our community and the media is an understatement,” Fontana said. “An effort by one individual to condemn and combat racism and discrimination in our community has resulted in our being labeled exactly the opposite.”

The hesitance from the board to second Quinn’s motion was not because of their personal opinions, she said, adding that she is personally offended by the Confederate flag.

But, she said she does not believe it is the board’s place to pass a resolution condemning it or requesting town residents take the flag down.

“Our position as elected officials governing the town of Tupper Lake does not give us the right to request that members of our community suppress their right to free speech, regardless of how it makes us feel individually,” Fontana said. “An individual has the right to brandish that flag, as distasteful or unpatriotic as I deem it to be.”

Fontana said she agrees with the “first four or five stanzas” of the resolution that stated the town’s opposition to racism and desire to be seen as a welcoming place, but disagreed with the portion asking residents to remove Confederate flags.

“If we as officials affirm a resolution requesting that they remove an object found offensive, it can be interpreted as a directive from a governing body,” Fontana said.

She said this would not be “objective” and that a governing body cannot request its residents to suppress their right to express political views.

“In the same way, we cannot ask the press to refrain from headlining their articles in a way that tarnishes the reputation of our community,” Fontana said. “Our community is not unwelcoming. Nor are we blind to the controversial issues our country is faced with today. There are small pockets of racism and bias located in every community across this nation and the world.”

She said she believes board members should address their concerns outside of their government roles.

“As individuals and members of a beautiful community, we do condemn racism and bigotry,” Fontana said. “That is what we can say and ask the press to tell our community, our region and the world.”

Quinn said he did not believe the budget workshop was the place to discuss this issue.

Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield, however, said she believed it was appropriate to talk about the resolution at the budget meeting.

“We got shut down on the opportunity to have a discussion last week,” she said.

She said the board members were all there and could discuss board issues. She also said the meeting is open to the public and that members of the public can request to speak for thee minutes each on any subject, on or off topic.

The board will hold another budget work session Thursday at 5 p.m. at the town hall and over Zoom.

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