Council stands by flag decision, petition may be in the works
FORT KENT, Maine — Despite a plea on Monday by the Fort Kent native who spearheaded the drive that adorned street light poles throughout town with American flag banners, town councilors stood by their decision not to fly them anymore.
Greta Laferriere Martin contributed $15,000 of her own money and helped raise another $5,000 to buy the 135 banners that have flown over the community during the summer months since 2011.
She pleaded with councilors Monday to reverse their unanimous decision in July 2017, not to rehang the banners once they were taken down for routine maintenance in the fall.
Councilor Joey Ouellette, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1994-1998 brought to the attention of his fellow council members at that July 10 meeting that the banners were not printed in mirror image on each side, causing them to hang incorrectly on the poles. Ouellette also told councilors then that a number of veterans and other members of the public had reached out to him and expressed their discomfort with the flag banners as they were currently displayed on the light poles in town.
Martin returned to Fort Kent from her New Jersey home to attend Monday’s council meeting and request a reversal of the decision. Barring that, she asked while holding a large American flag in front of her that the issue be sent to a public referendum, so that Fort Kent voters could decide whether or not to rehang the banners.
“I want to tell you right now, people are gonna vote for it. If it is not passed, I will take all of the flags out of here — they belong to me and the hardware on the poles belongs to me too. All of the Acadian flags belong to me. All of the signs coming to Fort Kent belong to me too,” a visibly angry Martin told councilors. “I’ll have them cut down and you’ll have nothing. I spent 15 years doing things for this community and I deserve some recognition.”
Martin was joined at the meeting, which was only attended by a handful of members of the public, by a supporter who identified herself as Cathy Martin. It is unclear whether the two Martins are related.
Cathy Martin expressed to the council her support for Greta Martin.
“This woman has done more for this community than anyone I know. Please stand up and tell this community what you’ve done for them,” Cathy Martin asked of Greta Martin.
“I can’t tell everything I’ve done; it’s too much,” Greta Martin responded.
Cathy Martin expressed her desire to see the flag banners remain flying in Fort Kent.
“For people to look at this and say veterans are not in my heart, I’ll tell them to go to hell,” Cathy Martin said.
Tony Theriault, the town’s director of public works which is responsible for hanging the flag banners each summer, said doing so is never without some controversy.
“Every time we put them up, five, six, seven veterans stop and tell us, ‘Hey, you’re putting them up backward,’” Theriault told councilors. “It’s veterans (who are telling us this).”
Martin Kline American Legion Post 133 Commander Wayne Caron said last week that he agrees with the council’s decision not to rehang the misprinted banners.
“Half of them are OK; the other half are not. It really doesn’t look right and a lot of people have commented on that too, before (Ouellette) talked about it,” he said. “They’re still flags and still have to be flown the right way if they represent the flag.”
Town manager Donald Guimond informed the councilors on Monday that they had several options: make a motion to reverse their decision and decide to rehang the flag banners; make a motion to bring the issue to a non-binding public referendum at the town’s annual meeting in March; or take no action and let the decision stand.
The councilors took no action, thus letting the decision not to rehang the banners stand, at least for now.
Guimond informed Greta Martin of her options to petition for a public referendum on the matter or to petition for a warrant article on the flag banner issue to be included at the annual town meeting. Either option would require Martin to obtain signatures from 10 percent of registered Fort Kent voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Councilor Jake Robichaud informed Martin that either petition would require 177 signatures.
Greta Martin did not indicate whether she would pursue a petition gathering effort.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Fort Kent Town Council will take place on Monday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. at the Fort Kent Municipal Building.