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Idaho Flag Dispute Could Lead To City Council And Mayoral Recall

Doug Nadvornick

The Tea Party movement is full of people who are ready to "throw the bums out" in Washington, DC. The same anti–establishment fervor is also spawning groups of angry citizens who vow to reclaim power in their local governments. In one Northwest town, military veterans are leading a spirited campaign to recall their mayor and city council. The crime? Flying what they say is an unauthorized flag over a local memorial.


Kellogg, Idaho is a very traditional town. It was built more than a hundred years ago with the muscles and sweat of underground miners. It's still a mining town through and through.

It's also a place that cherishes its veterans. Until recently, Kellogg had at least two memorial sites for native sons and daughters killed in foreign wars. The American flag flew over both of them. But at one monument in a city park, "Old Glory" shared a pole with a second flag. It touted Kellogg as "Tree City USA." To the local veterans, nothing could have been more insulting.

Haynes: "That's kind of like 'in your face.' You're a little nothing and we don't care. We're just going to do it because we're in charge."

Veteran Lee Haynes says, up on that flag pole, it's the Stars and Stripes or nothing. The "Tree City USA" designation is awarded by the Arbor Day Foundation to honor communities with urban forestry programs. It's a distinction the city of Kellogg shares with about 200 other Northwest cities. But Haynes says, in Kellogg, the flag ignited a verbal firefight.

Haynes: "You know, men are men. Testosterone gets going and guys go, well, we'll see about that."

Since the initial salvo, Haynes and a group of veterans have been negotiating a compromise. City Councilman Todd Goodson says the flag now flies about a hundred yards away, at another veterans' memorial.

Goodson: "We did what they recommended. We've acted on pretty much everything for the benefit of the veterans."

But the story didn't end there. Other vets in Kellogg haven't embraced the monument's new home. Some are trying to reverse the outcome. And now, what from the outside looked like a petty civic squabble, threatens to shake Kellogg's city government to its core.

On a recent Friday night, the veterans' groups held a public meeting in a Kellogg community hall. They wanted city officials like Goodson to come and explain themselves. But the elected leaders didn't show. That angered Brian Becker, who believes the city just doesn't understand how seriously the vets take the flag.

Becker: "When you're eating lousy food, taking orders from people you don't like, following orders you wish you didn't have to, being in situations that you never really want to be in, that flag represents hope. It's why we cover the coffins with the flag."

The flag controversy became so heated that someone climbed the pole one night and replaced the "Tree City" flag with "Old Glory." The next morning, the city switched the flag back again.

Now, the vets say they're ready to recall Kellogg's mayor and city council if the city doesn't move the veterans' monument back to its old place. Petitions may soon circulate around town to force an election.

University of Idaho political science professor Bryan McQuide says the Kellogg standoff is a reflection of the angry mood of voters. He says the veterans have a big task ahead of them.

McQuide: "Recall elections are very difficult to pull off. But it really sends a signal that things are not good right now, that voters are angry, that voters want change."

Veteran Lee Haynes acknowledges outsiders may see the recall campaign as an overreaction. But he says it's the only leverage the veterans have.

Haynes: "Gosh, we can't do anything about back east and that big picture. But we have something happening in our own backyard. We can do something about that."

Councilman Todd Goodson won't apologize for the city's handling of the flag pole flap.

Goodson: "I know I've done what's best and my record shows that I've always put the citizens of Kellogg first."

Kellogg voters may get a chance as early as August to decide whether they're angry enough over the flag issue to throw out their city council and mayor. I'm Doug Nadvornick in Kellogg, Idaho.

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