Letter to the Editor:Stars and Stripes at Half-Staff in Somerville 

To the Editor

I’m driving around Somerville this past Thursday morning, and I notice all the flags are at half-staff. Now, I try to stay on top of when to fly my flag at half-staff and according to a website I follow, neither the President nor the Governor of our Commonwealth ordered the Stars and Stripes to be lowered.
I called the Mayor’s office and inquired about the reason the national flag was at half-staff. The 311 operator did her best but wanted to transfer me to someone’s voice mail. I asked her not to do that and said I would wait until someone from the mayor’s office was available. The operator transferred me to a secretary at the high school. She could not answer my question and we both laughed. She offered to transfer me to the Mayor’s office and agreed to stay on the line until someone picked up the phone.
I reached a spokeswoman, Victoria, in the Mayor’s community relations department. I asked on what authority was he granted these federal powers. She claimed that the discretion was based on long standing precedent. My contention is that the precedent had to have been codified by law, regulation even a Memo of Understanding from the Governor’s office, past or present. The spokeswoman went on to say that the Mayor’s order to lower the flag to half-staff was in “Solidarity with the act of terror in Charlottesville.” 
I stated that the reason she gave was admirable and that I consider the Charlottesville events offensive and horrific. But, to the best of my knowledge, the Charlottesville events have not been declared an act of terror. I iterated my contention that the Mayor doesn’t have the authority to lower the stars and stripes to half-staff no matter the depth of his empathetic intentions. A round-and-round started where she tried to bully me into believing that the Mayor has the authority to lower the Stars and Stripes and I said he did not. I thanked her for her time.
I continued my research. There is no reference, on the Commonwealth’s web site or in the Commonwealth’s regulations and laws granting any public entity or political person or group the discretion to lower the federal flag to half-staff. Additionally, the Federal Flag codes explicitly state, in Title 4 Section 7 paragraph m that only the President or a Governor (Or the Mayor of DC) can order the Stars and Stripes to be lowered to half-staff. No one else. However, I must say that the rules can be overridden by individual civilians, civilian groups, or organizations. 
From the Congressional Research Service document, “CRS Report for Congress: The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions”; Updated April 14, 2008. https://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf
“The section provides that the President shall order the flag flown at half-staff for stipulated periods “upon the death of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a state, territory, or possession.” After the death of other officials or foreign dignitaries, the flag may be flown at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or in accordance with recognized custom not inconsistent with law. In addition, the Governor of a state, territory, or possession, or the Mayor of the District of Columbia, may direct that the national flag be flown at half-staff, in the event of the death of a present or former official of the respective government or in the event of the death of a member of the Armed Forces from that jurisdiction.”
According to the Commonwealth’s website, The Bureau of the State House oversees the administration of the flag throughout the Commonwealth. I spoke with the operations center twice, and they had not received any word from the President or the Governor about lowering of the stars and stripes. He referred me to the Governors Consumer Affairs office.
I initially spoke with Brendan. He had not heard that anyone was flying the federal flag lowered to half-staff. He had not received notification from the Governor either. My call and questions were the first time he’s heard of the flag lowering and wanted to transfer me to his supervisor.
I spoke with “John” who refused to give me his last name. John said that the local officials have the authority. I asked if he could provide me the guidelines which define the Governor abdicating his Federal authority to local politicians. He said he would have to do some research. Further, he claimed to have spoken to the director of the Bureau of the State House. I asked for the Director’s name and he refused. John was trying to get me off the phone and I became exasperated. John said he doesn’t give out names or contact information to the public. He said the information was on the website and I repeated my request for the director’s name. Finally, he caved in and said it was “Tammy”.
I called looking to speak with Ms. Tammy Krause. She was not aware of the situation in Somerville, and she needed some time to look up the flag flying rules. Ms. Kraus and I agreed to set the expectation that she would call me back later in the day after she offered to call within 1-hour. One hour wasn’t necessary but I appreciated her offer to call me back today.
Ms. Kraus called me back about two hours later. She said she is unable to find any precedent granting any mayor or local political entity the ability to lower the flags to half-staff with out the Governor’s authorization. She said she is going to call the Governor’s office but cannot guaranty any will happen.
The Spokeswoman from the Mayor’s, Vitoria, called me back mid-afternoon. Her call was unexpected and a welcomed surprise. She claims that the flag flying rules for the lowering of the flag to half-staff based on customary practices. Then she read highlighted paragraph from the same PDF referenced above to me as a justification. Victoria’s rationale is unacceptable. The Mayor, acting in his official role is neither a “civilian”, a “civilian group”, or an “organization”.
“The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America is established for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. The flag of the United States for the purpose of this chapter shall be defined according to Sections 1 and 2 of Title 4 and Executive Order 10834 issued pursuant thereto.”
The Mayor’s office has not received a call from the Governor’s off at the time of this writing. I do not have a problem with the Mayor lowering the flag at his home to half-staff.
I do not believe my reading of these rules is incorrect. If they are so be it. Let’s see what happens now.
Joe Chromy