A 'refreshed' town flag, designed by resident John Fallot. Courtesy photo

In my previous column, I made the case for how refreshing the Riverhead Town flag would boost civic pride. Now, I’d like to answer some common questions and concerns that came up about the flag refresh.

Isn’t the town flag from 1792 and therefore historical?

The current flag is from 1981. The town ratified it in 1984. The ‘1792’ on the flag is to show our town’s founding, not when the flag was first designed. That said, the town flag’s history is interesting in its own way.

According to Riverhead Town Historian, Georgette Case, “The [Riverhead Town] flag was designed by Supervisor Joseph F. Janoski, who served from 1980 until 1995. Responding to a request from the Suffolk County executive, who had in 1980 asked for flags from each town, Mr. Janoski designed one for Riverhead in the spring of 1981.”

While no comments or resolutions are made about this in any of the Town Board meeting minutes for 1981, the town seal was amended with Riverhead Town Board resolution 323 on June 7, 1983, to better reflect the flag that Janoski designed. While that resolution acknowledges that the town seal from 1900 did not reflect Riverhead Town, there is no mention anywhere of a flag from 1792.

The official flag was not adopted until Oct. 2, 1984, with resolution 653. Councilman John Lombardi offered the resolution, Councilman Victor Prusinowski seconded the motion. Resolution 653 reads as follows:

WHEREAS, it is appropriate and proper that the Town of Riverhead adopt a banner or symbol representing its existence as a government,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT

RESOLVED, That the Town Board of the Town of Riverhead hereby adopts a flag to represent the Township of Riverhead to consist of a banner separated per quarter, off center toward the canton, in alternating colors of green and blue, and

That the canton shall be alternating stripes of blue and white in a waved design symbolizing the industry and bounties of the waterways of the Township, and

The lower sinnister [sic] quarter of green shall symbolize the agricultural heritage of our community, and

The upper dexter quarter of green shall represent the hope of the future, and

The lower dexter of blue as symbolic of our fidelity to our past values and principles as we meet the future, and

That it shall be emblazoned with the great seal of the Town of Riverhead.

In my previous column, I proposed a flag refresh that would stay true to the existing flag as former supervisor Janowski had designed it. It would only remove the seal and, beyond that, just make sure that it adheres to flag design best practices.

Wouldn’t a flag redesign cost over $100,000?

Not at all! For one thing, this is a flag refresh that would be quite narrow in scope. For another, flag redesigns, in and of themselves, cost nothing.

The City of Pocatello, Idaho, redesigned their flag in 2017. That was after crowdsourcing ideas from across the world. The contest turned their flag from a hideous solo jazz logo into a respectable new flag. I reached out to Logan McDougall, the City of Pocatello City information officer to get his insights on cost.

“We spent a little under $250 for the whole effort,” he wrote back via email. “Our committee was almost all-volunteer — our committee secretary and I are paid city employees — so there was a significant time cost for those involved. We [the 15 committee members and the two city employees] were meeting twice a month for an hour or so. I’d say it was about 30 man-hours a month in meeting time.”

I explained to him that we — in all likelihood — only wanted to tweak the existing flag and nothing else. He agreed that that would sidestep a contest’s already negligible costs.

As for the cost of the new flag rollout, he emphasized that that was inexpensive too. “Here (in Pocatello), we’ve also been slow rolling the flag out as signs and other places become available to use the flag. This winter, we started putting the flag on street signs in the city. As the old signs need to be replaced, a new one with the flag on it is put up.” He clarified at the end, “If a community was to do a wholesale change over and replace everything, that cost would be considerable.”

That said, I agree that Riverhead should similarly roll out a new town flag gradually.

Ok, but are there cases where a flag design could get expensive?

While situations do exist where the costs of a flag redesign could become wildly expensive, that’s only realistic in two scenarios.

The first scenario is that the flag redesign also includes a brand overhaul for the entire town by a third party.

Additionally, the rollout is all at once rather than gradual in this scenario. In that case, according to a post by Ignyte Brands, prices might reach at least $120,000. Such a brand overhaul, however, means simultaneously changing the town’s: signage, wayfinding, website, motto, collateral, stationery, brochures, branding guidelines, letterhead, and rollout. That’s to say nothing of the research and discovery prior to that, such as client research and auditing the town’s brand.

The second scenario is when it’s for a larger locale overall, such as the State of Nebraska, which considered a flag redesign in 2017. Nebraska State Senator Steve Erdman wrote the following in the Scottsbluff Star Herald regarding the redesign’s growing costs:

“When LB 954 was introduced back in 2002, the fiscal note estimated the cost of purchasing and distributing 5,000 to 10,000 flags at somewhere between $200,000 to $400,000. So, my estimate of $250,000 was a conservative estimate… In 2002 the fiscal note attached to LB 954 put the individual cost of an all-weather outdoor nylon flag at $40 each. Today, these same flags retail at $55 each. Once you do the math, you will see that I underestimated the lowest cost by $25,000 just to be fair… The State [of Nebraska] does not pay to replace flags at our public schools. This expense would get added onto our property taxes.”

That $55 price tag that Senator Erdman lists is common for a 4’ x 6’ flag, which would be seen from flagpoles that are 20’ to 25’ high. In Riverhead Town, the highest possible estimate I could reach for places requiring formal flags for flag poles was 25 — that would give a flag to every school building, every major park, the library, Town Hall, the Roanoke traffic circle, and most other town offices.

Even then, and only if all those flags were rolled out simultaneously, would the cost be a maximum of $1,350. For context, the existing town budget for flags is $0.00. Riverhead Town’s general fund budget for 2019 is in excess of $50.6. When the flags are rolled out as needed, when old flags are worn out beyond use, the cost becomes identical to keeping the current flag. And nothing precludes folks from purchasing their own takes on the seal-less version of the flag, or even painting it on their garage doors as happened in South Bend, Indiana.

We have too many other issues going on though. Wouldn’t adopting a refresh of the existing flag take time away from other issues?

Pardon my freshness, but I don’t buy that: not one bit. People can chew gum and walk at the same time: our town can both fix its downtown and adopt minor adjustment to its existing town flag. We also have this marvelous thing called a society, where we delegate tasks to others to get it done quicker.

It also ignores what actually occurred the last time we adopted the town flag, which is to say, nothing. The vote for the 1984 flag was both unanimous and uneventful. Henry Pfeifer of Wading River commented at the time “…my compliments on the fine job that they did on the flag.”

William Kasperovich of Wading River also had this to say, according to the meeting minutes:

“…I have no major objections to your flag, Mr. Janoski. But I do feel that you have extended it to the public to accept it before you vote on it. To me, green is not hope. Light blue is hope and blue and not fidelity. But we should have the brown which we are a farming community. We are still coming from the brown earth, and so I would rather have seen the people have more of a say in this. And that’s my comment for your flag…”

That was the extent of discussion prior to and immediately after the adoption of our town’s current flag.

If you want to improve the town, why not just improve the town? Wouldn’t a flag refresh or redesign, without substantive improvements, just be putting lipstick on a pig?

Flags are not a cure-all, this is true. But flags are shorthand for identity.

I recently attended an improv theater show. At one point, those of us in the audience were prompted to turn to the people sitting next to us and ask, “If you had to tell your story of pride and power, what would that story be?” The young woman sitting next to me told me about how she had moved to the United States from Tanzania, and how she was striving to balance these two identities of being an American and also having Tanzanian heritage. On her wrist was a beaded bangle, and its beads of green, cyan, yellow, and black, formed the upward sweeping band of Tanzania’s flag.

Would a Riverhead flag refresh offer the same gravity as a national flag? No. However, a flag refresh would be a starting point to refreshing the other things too. If we’re only focused on how bad everything is, then we’re not going to have the energy and enthusiasm to make anything better. We start with something small, and then use that win to fuel the next win, and then the next win, and then the one after that.

When I designed the flag refresh, my aim was to get the seal off the flag — official seals are not meant to be seen at a distance, but for tiny pieces of paper — and adhere to other best practices of flag design.

The praise the flag refresh received humbles me, although Mr. Janoski already went most of the way there with his first flag design in the early 1980s. The arguments against a flag refresh inspired me to research whether it could truly be done in a cost-effective way. For both, I am thankful; and I hope that my answers have been helpful.

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