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Tupper Lake town board won’t vote on anti-racism resolution

Would have asked Confederate flag flyers to reconsider

TUPPER LAKE — The town board decided on Thursday it would not vote on or discuss a resolution drafted by a council member opposing racism, including public display of the Confederate flag.

Councilman John Quinn introduced the idea at a September board meeting. The board members talked about the issue then and agreed that Quinn would draft a resolution to be voted on this month. When he presented his resolution on Thursday, though, it did not receive the support required for it to be voted upon.

Quinn was noticeably disappointed when no one “seconded” his motion so the resolution could be discussed by the board, and eventually voted upon.

Two residents spoke at the meeting, opposing the resolution.

History of resolution and flag

In September, Quinn said the Confederate flag can be seen displayed on several main routes through the town. He said he personally dislikes the flag, which was flown by states seceding from the U.S. over their desire to maintain slavery, the root of the Civil War.

“I’m not trying to encourage this board to step on someone’s First Amendment rights,” Quinn said. “I see this resolution as one not taking anyone’s rights away, but saying ‘Hey, you people that have these flags on display, you ought to consider what that impact is to the image of this community to the traveling public, tourists, new residents and people of color.

“We’re not ordering it; we’re not dictating anything,” Quinn said. “This is just, we would ask that they be removed. Simple as that.”

He pointed out that South Carolina, the first state to secede, removed the flag from its statehouse in 2015 after a white supremacist terrorist killed nine Black people in a church, and that the NASCAR racing organization banned the flag at its events this summer.

Quinn said when neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis and other fascist groups marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the 2017 Unite the Right rally, they marched under the Confederate flag.

The resolution

Quinn said he wrote several versions of this resolution, and he felt the one he presented at Thursday’s meeting encapsulated the board’s feelings on the matter.

The resolution stated that Tupper Lake is proud of and benefits from its welcoming, friendly reputation, and that any public symbol of racism and prejudice is detrimental to that reputation.

“The Tupper Lake town board expresses its opposition to racism, bigotry, xenophobia and any hurtful speech or action,” the resolution reads. “While the town board acknowledges the constitutional right to free speech, the board affirms that the public display of confederate flags and other symbols of racism and hate are not beneficial to the community’s image.”

Quinn said Tupper Lake is overwhelmingly not racist, but that there are still individual and systemic issues which he believes makes the town less welcoming to people of color.

He said the town has spent tens of thousands of dollars to promote the community to tourists and new residents, but added that this can be foiled by a $20 flag.

No seconds

Seconding a motion is not a vote for it; rather, it is an agreement for members to talk about their thoughts on it.

The room was quiet when town Supervisor Patti Littlefield asked if anyone would second the resolution.

After a moment, the motion failed.

“Well I guess I misunderstood the board,” Quinn said. “I thought we were in agreement on this issue but obviously not. I’m sorry I wasted your time.”

Councilman Mike Dechene and Councilwoman Tracy Luton chose not to second the motion by not saying anything. Councilwoman Mary Fontana was not present at the meeting.

Dechene and Luton could not be reached for interviews by press time Friday.

Littlefield could have seconded the motion but did not. After the board meeting she said she had never thought about whether she would or not. She said as supervisor she has never made or seconded a motion but she can do so in accordance with the rules. She does vote on resolutions, but always after the rest of the board has made its vote. It is common on local government boards for chairs to wait for other board members to decide resolutions before voting, if they do at all.

Littlefield spoke on the topic before asking if someone would second the motion.

She said she personally would want to see a more positive resolution before the board.

“I would love to have a resolution that said, ‘Tupper Lake supports diversity and equality and all things equal in this community, and please come to Tupper Lake,'” Littlefield said.

“This is a very difficult topic for all of us,” Littlefield said. “I’ve had lots of phone calls and lots of comments and lots of conversations in the last month about this.”

She mentioned two letters to the editor published in the Tupper Lake Free Press: one written by village board candidate Eric Shaheen and another by Michael Savage, both opposing the resolution.

There were also two people who spoke at the Thursday meeting, voicing their opposition to the resolution.

“We have two people who have never stepped foot in a board meeting in the 10 years I’ve been in this room that took it upon themselves to come here tonight to give us their opinions,” Littlefield said.

Public comment

David Hachey spoke after the motion failed.

“I have some trouble when an outside publication comes to our community and takes photos for the sole purpose of creating conflict where no conflict exists,” Hachey said, referencing a September Adirondack Explorer article that included a photo of a Confederate flag hanging in the window of a home in Tupper Lake facing state Route 3.

Quinn had mentioned this photo as part of his reason for introducing the resolution.

Hachey asked if the town has ever been in litigation or arbitration about racism or discrimination regarding employment, hiring or services provided by the town. Littlefield responded, “Not that we know of.”

“I urge the board to focus on the problems facing our community and not be distracted by people or publications from the outside community,” Hachey said. “Your elected position is not to serve as the moral authority.”

He added that if the town passes a proclamation against racism, it should also pass one opposing the burning of the American flag.

“I find that very offensive,” Hachey said.

“I am totally against racism by any race,” he added.

Retired village police officer Wesley Hoyt spoke before and after the motion failed. He said he does not believe Tupper Lake has a diversity or racism problem.

“I think you have the right idea; you’ve just gone around it the wrong way,” Hoyt said. “Tupper Lake is a very diverse area. We really are. … I think diversity is Tupper Lake.”

He said his future son-in-law is a “young colored man” and that in Tupper Lake, “Everybody likes everybody,” which he believes is true diversity.

“Are there people in Tupper Lake that are idiots? Yes, there are, and you’re going to have that,” Hoyt said. “But there’s not that many of them.”

He said he believes other types of diversity are really separation, specifically mentioning Saranac Lake and saying he expects backlash for his view.

“They brought in a diversity person to teach diversity,” Hoyt said. “In that aspect, in my opinion, diversity means something different: separation. … They’re trying to teach that we have to have this type of people, this many of this type of people.”

He said he believes there is only one race, the human race.

“I honestly believe that,” Hoyt said. “I don’t believe I’m racist.”

On Friday Quinn said he does not plan to redraft and resubmit his resolution.

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