Commissioners in Montgomery County, North Carolina are pressuring a local volunteer fire department to remove a rebel flag from a privately owned building it has used for years.
Montgomery County commissioners are expected to approve a letter to the Uwharrie Volunteer Fire Department at their meeting Tuesday after months of public outcry over a Confederate flag that has flown over the building for more than two decades, WFMY reports.
“The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners respectfully asks the volunteers of the Uwharrie Fire Department to remove the Confederate Flag from the building for which they are defacto stewards,” the letter reads.
“We ask you to do so, out of respect for the institution you have so admirably volunteered to serve.”
The letter comes about a decade after former commissioner Ralph Bostic first suggested the flag’s removal, and a couple of months after the Democratic Party of Montgomery County again raised the issue at its district convention in May, WFMY reports.
“The first ting people see when they’re driving into the county from Winston-Salem, or other places, they see a rebel flag,” Bostic told the news site. “That’s not good for the county, the business, the economics, or anything else.”
The fire department’s operations and trucks are funded by tax dollars, but the building is owned by the Uwharrie Volunteer Association, which does not receive public money, according to the Courier-Tribune.
The building has historically served as a polling location during elections, but the North Carolina Board of Elections in February ordered county officials to find another location to avoid controversy with the flag.
During the 2016 election, a local poll worker refused to work at the Uwharrie Fire Department and filed a complaint because she was offended by the flag, the news site reports.
In previous elections, the Uwharrie Association has agreed to take down the flag on election days, but the association’s board now wants to keep it in place, according to Montgomery County Director of Elections Amy Roberts.
The Courier-Tribune points out that it’s perfectly legal for Confederate flags to fly at polling locations, but the state board’s legal counsel encouraged Roberts to find a different location “to ensure all steps are taken to identify the appropriate remedy here as quickly as possible.”
“No matter how one feels personally, we respect their right to do as they wish, but we choose to avoid controversy,” the state board wrote.
Roberts contacted the Uwharrie Community Center – which is also owned by members of the community – but the center refused to help county officials change the voting venue, citing a lack of complaints about the flag.
Roberts then sent registered letters to all 1,300 voters in the Uwharrie prescient to direct them to the neighboring Eldorado precinct several miles away to vote.
“We also enclosed absentee ballots, hoping that voters would use them to alleviate the congestion at the Eldorado precinct, and many did,” Roberts told the Courier-Tribune.
The Democratic Party of Montgomery County has since drafted a resolution denouncing the Confederate flag as a racist rag and is pressuring commissioners to take action against the Uwharrie Association, which prompted the recent letter.
And if the association refuses to voluntarily remove the flag, some are calling for more drastic measures.
“This is wrong, and it just has to end, and it’s that simple,” local Democrat Ray Hudson told WFMY. “At some point, the county commissioners, if (the fire department does) not want to take the flag down, we need to stop funding them and create another fire station.”