LOOGOOTEE — Although not on the agenda, controversy surrounding the proposed Pride banners in the city-owned downtown plaza dominated Loogootee City Council’s meeting on Monday.
At the April 11 meeting, council unanimously rejected a request from Tim and Tracy Salsman-Brown to display two banners in the plaza during the month of June. The banners would read “Love is Love” and “Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion”.
That meeting included a lengthy written statement read by Ernie Canell, pastor of New Beginnings Community Church, located just across the town square. It also included a written statement from Tim Salsman-Brown.
The motion approved at the April meeting stated that only city employees would be allowed to put decorations on city property.
On Monday night, Tim Salsman-Brown asked council to allow city workers to hang the two banners in the plaza. He offered to pay for the banners.
Councilor Teresa Nolley said she wanted clarification on this. She asked if “are we going to go through this every time someone wants to put something together?”
Mayor Noel Harty then took the discussion in a different direction by mentioning the Town Beautification Council, which is made up of volunteers but represents the town. He said the duty of this council was to make decisions on all decorations on city-owned properties.
On several occasions, Harty asked if any board members disagreed with his assessment of the board’s duties, but no one responded.
Board chairman Trenton Scott, who was at the meeting, said he was ‘okay’ for the banners to be displayed in the town square, but would have to check first to its entire board of directors.
At one point during the meeting, a lengthy statement in support of the banners was read by Stacey Bowling, PhD. He lived most of his life in Loogootee, moved out and then returned 11 years ago.
Bowling said Loogootee’s population had been declining since 1960. He said the 2020 census showed only 200 more people in the town than 100 years earlier.
“It’s a full century of stagnation,” Bowling said. “Growth and increased prosperity will only come from a good availability of jobs.”
Later, Bowling said, “Good employers mean visionary companies. Forward-thinking companies are attracted to communities that display a commitment to progress and communities with a diverse pool of talented workers.
Bowling said talented workers would not come to cities that objected to the display of the two banners in question.
Turning to legal concerns, Bowling mentioned that the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled on May 2 that the city of Boston violated the United States Constitution by refusing to allow a local organization to display a Christian flag in front of the ‘city Hall. He said the court said a public forum was open to everyone.
Bowling said he believed the town square was also a public forum and should therefore be open to everyone. If the banners aren’t approved, he thinks the city would be in legal jeopardy.
“I would say that some civil rights lawyers would be downright giddy at the possibility of taking on this issue and suing the town in the Stone Age while making a name for themselves,” he said.
Bowling has described himself as a lifelong Christian, husband, father and stepfather. “Nothing in my Christianity tells me that I need to worry about other people celebrating their right to exist and be equal members of society, legal rights that they undeniably have,” a- he declared.
Near the end of the meeting, Tim Salsman-Brown read a statement. “Since returning to Loogootee 25 years ago, I’ve been called f— many times. People have thrown whole packets of lit firecrackers into my house through a window. They broke a $700 window People robbed me without consequence.
“I was attacked and injured by corrupt police officers,” he continued. “I was also arrested by corrupt police for a medical crisis. One of these corrupt officers was accused of pedophilia and supposedly committed suicide. The other joined the city council. This city council allowed a preacher to interrupt the meeting and give a sermon before public comment time with his brand of hatred for diversity.
In other cases, the board took no action on life insurance quotes, which were submitted by four companies. By taking no action, the current policy with Transamerica will be rolled over on June 1. Council members said city workers were concerned about the portability of their life insurance when they retire. They were told that the current policy allows conversion to portability.