The U.S. flag will fly in front of University Place’s civic and library building early next year.
In front of a larger-than-usual crowd, the University Place City Council settled on the project’s location and funding Monday night following a yearlong, emotionally charged debate.
The flagpole will be 50 feet tall and erected on the east side of a public plaza close to the civic building.
Some council members said they were at fault for allowing the issue to turn into a flap.
“We majorly screwed up on this,” Councilwoman Caroline Belleci said.
The city will pay for the project from $20,000 it had budgeted for Town Center development expenses that were later deemed ineligible to be used for that purpose.
Public Works and Parks Director Gary Cooper said Tuesday that Jan. 1 is the earliest the project could be completed. The city is required to put the work out for competitive bid, and it will take weeks to receive the bronzed flagpole, install it and light it, he said.
Plans first called for the flagpoles in front of the current city offices at Windmill Village to be moved across the street when University Place officials eventually move into the civic building – a date that is yet to be set. Councilman Javier Figueroa pushed to erect a flagpole sooner. He cited federal code that requires the American flag be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of public institutions.
Figueroa claimed the civic building, though still largely empty, met that criteria when the University Place Pierce County Library opened in February 2011.
The council couldn’t agree on where to put the flagpole or how to pay for the project.
University Place resident Ruthann Reim McCaffree and city arts boosters raised concerns about installing it next to Bridgeport Way, one of the locations being seriously considered. They said it would block the view of a bronze duck sculpture, dedicated to the memory of Reim McCaffree’s late husband, Terry Reim, a UP civic booster.
Supporters of that site, however, said the flag would be more visible closer to Bridgeport.
The council convened a task force of three council members, including Figueroa, and other community members, including Reim McCaffree. They recommended two sites for consideration by the full council: one near the civic building, favored by McCaffree, and another near Bridgeport Way, favored by Figueroa.
The council voted 6-1 to erect the flagpole near the building. Belleci voted no. She said it’s premature to erect the flagpole until UP decision-makers relocate from Windmill Village – a move that isn’t guaranteed. The police and parks and recreation departments are the only city offices currently in the building.
Some have suggested the city risks giving priority to a local tribute over a sacred American symbol. Bellici disagrees.
“This has nothing to do with patriotism,” she said. “This has to do with civic operation.”
She added she should have done more to nip the controversy in the bud.
An earlier vote Monday evening to erect the flagpole closer to Bridgeport Way failed 4-3. Council members Eric Choiniere, Chris Nye, and Mayor Ken Grassi joined Belleci in voting no.
Choiniere supported the location near the building because he said there’d be a future debate about moving the duck statue if the flagpole were erected next to it.
“Do you really want to go through this all over again? Because I certainly don’t,” he said.
Grassi said having three council members on the task force was a poor decision and that the recommendation should have been turned over completely to the community. He said the city has been “humiliated and embarrassed” by news coverage of the flag debate.
Councilwoman Denise McCluskey agreed having three council members on the task force was a mistake and added that she is “very heartbroken over the division that this has caused.”
Full UP council OKS debt restructure
The University Place City Council voted unanimously Monday to refinance a massive debt payment coming due on the Town Center project next year.
The proposal will break up into 25 annual payments a $12.4 million bill that is due by Dec. 1, 2013. A state audit of UP’s books from 2011 found the city doesn’t have the ability to make the big single payment.
The city has been paying interest-only on the debt, and refinancing would allow it to begin paying down the principal. The bonds will be sold next month.
There was no discussion before the unanimous vote. Council members had examined the proposal during a prior study session.
The city also will refinance $1.8 million it owes to develop Cirque Park to take advantage of lower interest rates.
Councilman Kent Keel said afterward that his excitement about refinancing is tempered by the fact that University Place is pushing its debt obligations down the road. He said the city needs to be more prudent in the future.Christian Hill: 253-274-7390