The Bayfield Town Board of Trustees will consult with a First Amendment lawyer to learn more about what options are available to deal with a Confederate float that has entered the town’s Fourth of July parade two years in a row, upsetting some residents who say the display is inappropriate.
Trustees instructed town staff at Tuesday night’s board meeting to go forward in arranging a pro bono consultation with an attorney specializing in First Amendment rights. The float has made past appearances in Bayfield, but this year, residents formed a group to counter the Confederate symbol. The Town Board hopes the consultation will further its understanding of First Amendment rights and controversial symbol issues, but it doesn’t expect any changes to parade entry requirements.
“We can talk about this, but I don’t think that’s going to change much in terms of blocking them,” said Mayor Matt Salka, adding while he is personally not a fan of the Confederate flag, he will always back First Amendment rights.
“We might not like some of the things that happen ... but that’s what’s great about America – that we do have that right to speak whatever it is,” he said.
Town Manager Chris LaMay and trustees Salka, Matt Nyberg and Brenna Morlan said they received messages from community members concerned about the presence of the Confederate flag at the parade.
The flag, as well as historic monuments to the Confederacy, have come under intense scrutiny in recent years as symbols that reflect racism and slavery, often used by white supremacist groups.
Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation, the group that organized the float and decorated it with the controversial flag, said it does not support “violence, racism or hate against any persons.” Instead, it supports Confederate heritage and “powerful Southern Pride,” according to its Facebook page.
The Confederate float was entered into the parade by Chrystal Porter of Bayfield. Porter did not immediately return a phone call Thursday seeking comment.
Paula Dugger, who rode on the float and is an administrator of the group’s Facebook page, said Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation chose to enter the Confederate float in Bayfield’s parade because Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation always feels welcome there, and small towns are a “wellspring of patriotism.”
Dugger is a resident of Woodland Park, near Colorado Springs, about 270 miles from Bayfield, according to her Facebook profile and state voter registration information.
“The board of trustee’s (sic) meeting with a ‘First Amendment lawyer’ indicates that they are actively trying to find a legal loophole through which they can thread this unfair and illegal strand (sic) to support their attempt to deprive an organization of its First Amendment rights,” she wrote, adding that if people are offended, that is their choice.
LaMay said it is not the town’s intent to allow parade entries that offend the community, according to a meeting packet he provided to board members; however, because of First Amendment rights, the town is limited in controlling flags, symbols, graphics and statements that may offend in the parade. Sam Light, legal counsel for the town’s insurance provider, CIRSA, offered free legal advice if the board showed interest.
“My outcome of this is that I would like to know if it is possible to kind of nitpick at what we can have in the parade,” Salka said. Bayfield’s history does include a local Ku Klux Klan chapter, but “we’re not that anymore. We need to keep moving forward in the right direction,” he said.
Trustee David Black was more in support of trying to keep the float out of the town’s parade, but also puts the First Amendment first.
“It offends me that they show up,” Black said. “If there were a way to keep them out, I would do it, so I am very interested in listening to the lawyer speak to us about the freedom of speech and how that might apply in this situation.”
Board members expressed a desire to learn more and further the discussion during their meeting with the attorney.
“It really gives us a black eye to a certain extent,” Nyberg said. “At least people know that you’re doing something if you have this discussion, instead of sweeping it under the rug.”