- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

Richmond officials yesterday decided to replace an American flag hung by a city employee with one owned by the city, ending a disagreement that began when three of the man's anti-war colleagues complained about the display.

Building Commissioner Claude G. Cooper initially Thursday ordered zoning officer Gary Burton to remove the 5-foot-by-8-foot flag hanging outside his cubicle after receiving complaints from Mr. Burton's co-workers. The co-workers viewed Mr. Burton's action as a statement of support for the war in Iraq. Mr. Burton said he hung his flag to show his support for the troops.

Bernard Wray, the acting deputy city manager, said the city wants to display the flag but can't allow employees to hang private property in public. "The issue is not we're anti-American," Mr. Wray said. "It's personal property in a public place."

Meanwhile, government officials in the Washington metropolitan area said yesterday they don't have policies prohibiting the display of American flags.

"It's a flag of our country," said Montgomery County spokeswoman Donna Bigler. "I don't see where that would be a problem."

Mr. Burton said he was pleased with the decision. "The whole point is to have an American flag displayed," he said. He plans to display his flag a gift from his brother-in-law proudly outside his home.

Of the 65 persons who work with Mr. Burton in the city's Bureau of Permits and Inspections, only three complained.

Mr. Wray said an extra flag will adorn the office, even if those employees who do not support the war in Iraq complain. Employees are still allowed to hang flags in their personal areas, he said. "They may complain," he said, "but this is a [city-owned] flag and they can argue all they want."

The disagreement prompted state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore and U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, to write letters to City Manager Calvin D. Jamison denouncing the city's order to remove Mr. Burton's flag.

"With the war having commenced in Iraq, and on the day that America suffered our first casualties, Mr. Burton's efforts were not only appropriate, but also completely within his rights as a patriotic American," Mr. Cantor wrote. "We are all proud to be Americans; your employees should be allowed, without question, to show that they are proud of their country."

Local officials said they were not aware of policies that would prohibit workers from displaying a U.S. flag.

Fairfax County workers are allowed to display flags, as are their Montgomery County counterparts, but they are not allowed to engage in political activities during work.

Tony Bullock, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said the Mayor's Office has no policies governing the way people decorate their work areas, provided that the material is appropriate.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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