‘Capture the flag’ is for kids

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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Capture the Flag has been a mainstay of Boy Scout camping trips for generations. Scout “Patrols” are informally pitted against each other, usually after dark, and the goal is to capture the “enemy’s” flag.

It can be rough and tumble, but generally good-natured, wholesome entertainment.

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When adults — and especially public officials — try to play, it becomes something a lot less fun, as it did last week when town employees were sent to confiscate what are known as feather flag signs in front of Smithfield businesses.

Let’s be clear from the outset. The proliferation of signs, particularly the feather flag variety, had gotten a bit crazy. They were lining South Church Street and for several reasons they didn’t comply with one or another town regulation, which are numerous. So, the Town Council was not wrong in wanting something done.

What was done, though, was heavy-handed and downright klutzy. A town official drove around and threw the signs in the back of a vehicle and hauled them off without notice.

It would not have been terribly difficult to send a letter, put a notice in this newspaper or just make a public announcement at a council meeting that the flags were not in compliance and would soon be picked up.

This is Smithfield, not Washington, D.C. We just don’t expect the Town Council to act like the IRS the DEA or — well, pick you favorite from the federal alphabet soup. And to be clear. This was ultimately the Town Council’s responsibility, not the town manager’s. Brian Thrower would not have ordered the flag confiscation without the council’s backing. The idea appears to have come out of a recent “retreat” that the council members held in Williamsburg. Just a few days after everyone got back home, the great flag raid took place.

This is still a small town and, as such, we expect our Town Council and town officials to at least talk with residents about concerns. But when a couple of business people appeared before the council last week to complain about the way the confiscation was handled, no council member would respond directly.

It was left to Mr. Thrower to respond. And he did, by reading a prepared statement about the sign regulations. Nothing more. Not a word was said informally to make these taxpayers feel that the town had time to be bothered by them.

To repeat: The flag signs were getting out of control. It was the nature of the action, not the ultimate goal, that was wrong.

And once again, Mr. Thrower is not primarily responsible for any ill will. He will do whatever the Town Council wants him to do if he values working here, which apparently he does. Thus, he is reflecting what the Town Council (or at least a working majority of it) want him to do and be.

Council members Valerie Butler and Beth Haywood have publicly disclaimed the method used by the town staff in this instance. Good for them for doing so. In the meantime Mr. Thrower has said the get-tough policy will continue. Time will tell just how tough.

Anyone who has a complaint about this or any other heavy-handed town activities needs to take them directly to Town Council members. It is they who are asked for your vote when they were elected, and only they can ensure that town officials are talking with — and listening to — resident and business concerns. They, not the staff, are responsible for the tone that government sets.