An empty flagpole standing in the middle of Kellogg’s Memorial Park symbolizes a months-long dispute between veterans and city leaders that has escalated into recall petitions being filed against the mayor and all six City Council members.
The flagpole formerly displayed both the American flag and a Tree City USA flag, until the commanders of Silver Valley veterans groups informed the city in August that flying both on the same pole was improper. The flags flew above a veterans’ memorial dedicated to the city more than 50 years ago. The stone memorial embedded with a plaque honored veterans of the two World Wars and of the Korean War.
The veterans asked that the Tree City flag be removed and offered a separate flagpole to fly it, said Lee Haynes, a spokesman for the veterans. Instead, the city removed the American flag and dug up the memorial, moving it to a newer veterans’ park, just across the lawn to the north.
“We look at a memorial much like you do a gravesite,” Haynes said. “Why you think you can rip apart a 50-year-old memorial is beyond my imagination.”
Mayor Mac Pooler said when city officials met with the veterans, they offered three options, one of which was to move the stone memorial to the new memorial park.
“The council discussed it and decided that would be a nice option,” Pooler said. “We thought we had this thing worked out. We didn’t intend any animosity.”
But Haynes said that was considered a last resort – if the city couldn’t be persuaded to remove the Tree City flag. The veterans treasure both memorials, he said. The older memorial commemorates veterans of the two World Wars and of the Korean conflict. The newer memorial honors all Silver Valley veterans, Haynes said.
“We made a simple request that it be removed,” Haynes said of the Tree City flag. “We never had an answer.”
The veterans didn’t want the historic memorial standing beneath anything but the American flag. That’s why they offered the separate pole for the Tree City flag, he said. Instead, after digging up the memorial, the city put the Tree City USA flag back on the flagpole.
“That kind of blew the lid off the teapot,” Haynes said.
A rally followed and veterans flooded into City Council meetings. Regular updates on the situation are posted on a Facebook page called “Stop the City of Kellogg, Idaho from Destroying a Veterans Memorial.”
On Wednesday morning, recall petitions were filed against the City Council members and the mayor. Also on Wednesday, a group of veterans went to the flagpole and with help from a hydraulic lift loaned to them by Ken Smith, owner of Dave Smith Motors, removed the Tree City flag, replacing it with an American flag. The police arrived, and Chief Dave Wuolle said he had the right to issue trespassing citations, but he said that would only make a bad situation worse.
“I’m not going to write any citations for what they did,” Wuolle said. “They did break the law. They’re actually trespassing on the flagpole itself. They did something they weren’t authorized to do.”
On Thursday morning, city crews arrived and took the American flag back down, but did not replace it with the Tree City flag, leaving the flagpole empty.
Pooler said he, too, is a veteran and thought the city was complying with veterans’ wishes by moving the memorial. He said when the city took action to move the memorial, another group of veterans showed up, upset about what was happening.
“It’s always easy to blame government,” Pooler said. “That seems to be the passion this day and age. I grew up in this city and I know a lot of these people and I’ve known them all my life. They think they’re right and we think we’re right. We’ll see where we go.”
City Clerk Terry Sharp said the city planned to issue a statement on Tuesday. Sharp said the recall petitions were delivered to Shoshone County for verification, after which the veterans will have 75 days to collect signatures. The petition requires signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters in the last city election, Sharp said.
The soonest a recall election could be held is the first Tuesday in August, she said. It will be complicated, because the number of votes required is based on the number of votes each politician received. Sharp said in her 20 years with the city, she doesn’t remember another recall election.
“Every one of them will be different. It’s very costly and time-consuming,” Sharp said. “And taxpayers are footing the bill.”