Q: Dear Ask Us Guy:
My autistic child wonders why flags are not displayed for national holidays on the Madison Avenue light poles as they are equipped with flag holders. S/he would also like to see flags displayed on the Victory Drive light poles in honor of the veterans’ victories in protecting our country (given the “Victory” namesake of the route).
They also wonder why the banner poles (supposedly) are unused. These are just metal poles with no light fixtures at some intersections.
Please, no silly comments.
A: So someone writes to Ask Us Guy, wanting him to track down an answer while simultaneously refraining from silly comments? Makes him wonder if they would also ask a stream not to flow? The grass not to grow? A crow not to crow? The moon not to glow? A crew team not to row? A flag not to blow?
Oh. Right. Flags. Need to answer the question about the flags.
The reader’s child is correct that there are many flag brackets on light poles in Mankato streets that never get to hold a flag.
Essentially, Mankato city crews put Old Glory up for national holidays on the taller street-light poles along Riverfront Drive in the area nearest to downtown. The flags go up along Riverfront from Highway 169 near West High School to Plum Street just past the library.
“Riverfront is a great one to do,” Public Works Director Jeff Johnson said, noting the high levels of traffic.
Serving the city center, Riverfront has had a lot of aesthetic touches added in recent years, including landscaped medians, flower beds, trees and shrubs, and ornamental street lights.
That beautification will be extended through Old Town next year when Riverfront undergoes a $7.8 million reconstruction that will create more room for sidewalks, landscaping and other pedestrian amenities.
As part of that project, the city is considering adding the stylish high-level street lights seen closer to downtown. It would make sense to place flag brackets on those poles and have a continuous stretch of flags extending to Madison Avenue, maybe even the entire length of Riverfront, Johnson said. After all, brackets are already on the light poles between Madison Avenue and Highway 14.
It gets more complicated, though, to keep extending the red, white and blue to additional lengthy streets.
Victory Drive, which has no flag brackets, is actually a Blue Earth County Road, so the County Board would probably need to approve adding them.
As for Madison Avenue, flag holders exist on the more ornamental light poles from Seventh Street to Highway 22 but not along the valley portion of Madison, where the street has bland, utilitarian light poles without flag brackets.
When Johnson received these questions, he asked for some time to do research, including the cost of the current practice of displaying the Stars and Stripes on Riverfront Drive near downtown.
“It costs $15,000 a year to do those sections,” he reported. “… It costs more than I thought it did.”
And to do all of the sections that have the holders?
“It would be probably triple that, even more,” Johnson said.
The banners are another issue, governed by a seven-page policy manual titled “Outdoor Banner Program.”
The city has banner brackets on the Veterans Memorial Bridge, along Riverfront Drive, on Stoltzman Road, on Madison Avenue, on streets around the Minnesota State University campus and downtown. Organizations can seek permission from the city to display banners in any of those areas but the cost of purchasing, erecting and maintaining the banners is the responsibility of the organization.
The 250 banner spots are available for use only by public institutions and nonprofit organizations for the purpose of promoting tourism, civic events, festivals and such.
No commercial, political or religious messages are permitted, and the city must approve the content of the banners in advance. A private contractor, financed by the sponsor, must be hired to do the work of putting the banners up and taking them down.
Visit Mankato, the local convention and visitors bureau, has sponsored banners in the past promoting the city as a good place for biking and other recreation. And purple and gold banners regularly greeted the Minnesota Vikings back when they held summer camp in the city.
The most recent batch was when MSU put up promotional banners to welcome new President Edward Inch.
“They did the work. It was actually very nice,” Johnson said. “But is that the role of the city to take on?”
While the council could decide that it was, there would be a real financial impact if all of those streets were adorned with Old Glory for holidays plus a rotation of banners for various community events or celebrations.
“You could imagine the level of effort. You’ve got 12, 13, 14 national public holidays a year,” Johnson said. “Add banners on top of that.”
It would require multiple employees — one driving the bucket truck, one in the bucket and a third in a pickup diverting traffic from the lane where the bucket truck was operating. And there would also be a time commitment for maintaining and storing the flags and banners.
“It could be almost a half-time job for those three people,” Johnson said.
As regular Ask Us readers know, the column has highlighted a variety of requests by residents over the years for enhanced city services. So citizens who prioritize park maintenance or pothole repair or litter clean-up or boulder-straightening might not agree with shifting Public Works resources toward displaying the Star Spangled Banner in more parts of town.
City officials try to strike a balance.
“It’s nothing to do with dishonoring veterans,” Johnson said.
And he advised anyone who feels strongly about the value of expanding the current patriotic and decorative work to bring it to their elected official.
“They should definitely contact a council member,” he said.
Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org; put “Ask Us” or “Would you ask a gardener not to hoe?” or “A tugboat not to tow?” or “A pitcher not to throw?” in the subject line.
Q: Dear Ask Us Guy: