By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – The removal of a “Thin Blue Line” flag from the pole in front of the Public Safety Building has caused a local social media uproar, and the mayor, police chief and deputy mayor issued a joint statement tonight seeking to calm the discussion.
The men are in agreement on the issue, the statement said.
“Locally, we have enough problems to solve without creating ones that do not exist,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “Many of the recent accusations, spreading through social media and email, have been both painful and false. We want to set the record straight.”
The controversy started during a meeting of the city’s Legislative Committee last week. Deputy Mayor Dave Rissberger, Third Ward, brought up the flagpole in front of the Public Safety Building, which had flown the “Thin Blue Line” flag since the summer.
“My understanding is that it came during the Crimean War, that it indicates the thin line between civil society and chaos,” said Rissberger. “I firmly believe that, but some people have polarized the ‘Thin Blue Line’ and use it as a protest.”
He pointed out the contention that arose when Cooperstown passed an ordinance to allow groups to apply to use the flagpole for flags other than the state or American flag. “We don’t have a policy on what we should fly,” he said. “But with the polarization of things, I believe we should only fly the state and the American flag.”
In response, Brenner said the “Thin Blue Line” flag has been flown before, and was raised in recent days “as a show of support for the department.”
“It’s important for the morale of the officers to have some sort of acknowledgement,” he said.
Rissberger agreed, but acknowledged concerns that outside groups may want to use the flagpole as well.
“My fear is that if we put a policy in place, you could end up with a group that is anti-police or anti-fire and they would want to fly a flag,” he said. “And that would be a kick in the teeth.”
Though no one on Council ordered the flag taken down, Brenner removed the flag voluntarily in the days following the meeting.
“My decision to remove the flag was so to avoid it being used as a discussion point, either for or against a policy, and to avoid it from stimulating either pro or anti law enforcement controversy,” he said. “This topic has since snowballed and has been misinterpreted leading to false allegations of a non-supportive relationship between the council and the police department including budget related topics and staffing.”
Rissberger also acknowledged his part in the misinterpretation. “In hindsight, I should have reached out to Chief Brenner beforehand to present the anticipated problem the City was faced with and to allow us to discuss and come forward with a solution that was amicable to all,” he said. “Moving forward, I’d like to apologize to the Police Chief and his staff for any misconceptions that he may have taken from our meeting.”
Rumors began to spread online that Council had ordered the flag removed, and was withholding funding for open positions in the department.
“Let me be clear,” said Herzig. “No one, at any time, either ordered or requested that any flag be removed, and the Council has supported full funding for filling all open positions at OPD and the purchase of all requested equipment.”
Both Rissberger and Brenner acknowledged and accepted the other’s apology.
“The council has repeatedly and continually demonstrated their support for the police department in providing the resources needed to advance its mission to serve and protect the citizens of the city of Oneonta,” said Brenner. “The Oneonta Police Department appreciates the positive constructive support of the community, the Mayor, elected officials, and the administration.”
“I believe better days are ahead, because they must be,” said Rissberger.