The flag pole at the Village of River Forest building is seen on Friday, May 14, 2021, on Park Avenue. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

River Forest Trustee Erika Bachner’s desire to see the gay pride flag flying on the village hall flagpole took a step closer to reality when the village board approved a village hall flagpole policy at the May 10 virtual board meeting.

The policy, which is modeled after one from a municipality in California that Bachner said she found while doing research on the matter, applies only to the village hall flagpole and requires that the request to fly a commemorative flag come from a village board member.

In her memo to the board, Sara Phyfer, management analyst/deputy clerk, said a village flagpole flying only the United States flag is considered a nonpublic forum as opposed to a traditional public forum or limited or designated public forum.

“Staff recommends exercising caution and carefully restricting the use of the village’s flagpoles in order to avoid being forced to fly flags that may not align with the village’s public policy goals and messaging due to the public forum doctrine,” she said in the memo, which she noted was prepared with input from Greg Smith, village attorney. 

Following a brief discussion over wording in the policy regarding requiring 60-days’ notice and limiting the policy to the village hall flagpole, as opposed to flagpoles at other locations in the village, including the public works pumping station, trustees voted unanimously to adopt the policy.

“In adopting this policy, the village board declares that the village of River Forest’s flagpole is not intended to serve as a forum for free expression of the public, but rather for the display of federal, state and village flags and any commemorative flag as may be authorized by the village board, as an expression of the village’s board’s official sentiments,” the policy reads. 

According to the policy, commemorative flags shall be displayed only if authorized by a resolution adopted by the village board and only if the request is made by a member of the River Forest village board.

Bachner said she first thought about the gay pride flag flying on the village hall flagpole at a village board meeting in June 2019, gay pride month, shortly after she was elected to the village board in April that year.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could fly the pride flag next time?” Bachner said she thought at the time.  

When the matter came up a year later, Bachner said, it was realized that a formal policy would be required.

“I did some research and found a policy in Pittsburg, Calif.,” she said. “They had gone through something similar.

“This one seems to be the most clear and direct. It’s put together well and its comprehensive and straight-forward.” 

Although the policy requires 60-days’ notice, officials indicated at the May 10 meeting that Bachner would be able to make a request at the May 24 meeting for the gay pride flag to fly during the month of June.

“I’m just so proud that everybody feels comfortable,” she said. “I’m confident the new board will support it.

“I think this strengthens our community. It’s so important to show how welcoming we are to the LGBTQ-plus community, to show we stand with them.”

Commemorative flags displayed on the village hall flagpole will be displayed in the last position, beneath the village flag. When flags are lowered to half-staff, only three flags will be displayed and any commemorative flag will replace the village flag so no flag touches the ground. Commemorative flags will be displayed for a period of time that is “reasonable or customary for the subject to be commemorated” but no longer than 31 continuous days.

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