Flag display issue still flying at USD 234

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Matthew Resnick/Tribune photo Kevin "Skitch" Allen presents to board member Gary Billionis, a picture of Billionis' truck, which Allen said is in violation of the U.S. Flag Code. Allen and two others spoke during the public forum portion of the USD 234 Board of Education's regular meeting Monday night about controversy surrounding a flag display, which Allen gifted to the board last month.

Kevin "Skitch" Allen returned to the USD 234 Board of Education a little more than two weeks after being granted permission to have the name of his and another company included on a flag display they had gifted to the school.

During those two weeks, the gift has generated discussion among many in the community about whether the businesses' names above the flag follow proper flag etiquette.

On Monday, Allen was armed with what he said are examples of others who are not following proper flag etiquette -- including Gary Billionis, the one board member who voted against accepting the flag display.

Allen presented examples of what he referred to as "flag etiquette" not being properly followed, which he said did not generate any controversy. Allen also said he had spoken with several schools in the area about similar displays that have not been controversial in those communities.

Allen's documents to the board included a Kansas National Guard flyer, showing the word "Kansas" above the American Flag.

He also had a photograph of Billionis' pickup and said it was in violation of the U.S. Flag Code.

"That's my truck. You took a picture of my truck. What did I do wrong?" Billionis asked.

"If you look real close, you're breaking flag etiquette," Allen said. "There's a flag on your tailgate, which board members can also see, and right above it is the word 'Dodge.' And I don't know, but the way everybody's talking in here tonight, you're not supposed to have anything above the American flag. I was following his truck the other day and trying to gather examples, as we have been, about people that are breaking it."

Allen showed the photograph to the other board members via his iPad.

During a special board meeting on Feb. 13, the board was asked to consider the gift of a large U.S. flag and display device donated by Allen, owner of Skitch's Inc. and Twister Trailer, a local trailer manufacturer. The board approved the donation on a 5-1 vote. Billionis was the lone "no" vote. "As a veteran, this bothers me and I vote 'no'," he said. Billionis left the meeting after the vote and before the board was finished with its special agenda.

During his presentation Monday, Allen said he has received unwavering support from within the community regarding the flag display. Allen also said he feels he is being treated unfairly in regard to the flag display.

"I think everybody in America ought to be treated on a level playing field. I've always thought that and I always will," Allen said during the public forum. "I don't want to see USD 234 and the United States of America used as a platform to settle a personal grievance with somebody else. And I think that's what we have here. I think if this thing would have had somebody else's name, and I hate to go there, but I feel like I'm being treated differently than if this would have a different name on it."

Billionis, during the meeting, said he did not have any personal issues with Allen, and offered during the meeting to give Allen a hug. Allen responded with "We don't need to go there."

After Monday's meeting, Allen told The Tribune he believes Billionis' vote was the result of a longstanding grudge.

"Former mayor Gary Billionis, his strongest selling point against our flag being improper, was that nothing goes above the American Flag in any circumstance," Allen told The Tribune. "And on his own tailgate there is a magnetic flag, one-foot-by-one-foot, and it's under the word 'Dodge.' So actually, it's an improper form of flag etiquette. He's broken flag etiquette.

"I believe, as well as people I know in Fort Scott, that this stems back to when I was a city commissioner and he was a city commissioner, over ten years ago. And there were several discrepancies and issues that arose in that two years that would lead me to believe that he still hasn't been able to let it go. But I believe that Mr. Billionis, even though he may say in the meeting that he is good with me and would love to give me a hug, I believe that he is being facetious with that statement. If it would have had another sponsor (on the flag) such as a different foundation or things of that nature, we wouldn't be here today."

"Skitch and I have had several conversations and I've told him I appreciate the donation and how much work has gone into the flag," Diane Gross, USD 234 superintend said during the meeting. "And I agree with you (Allen) there isn't anybody in this room or in this community that would say 'take that flag down.' I would however, disagree with you that there are some people in this community that feel like they have been offended with any wording over it (the flag). It doesn't matter if it's advertisement or just recognition of the person that donated it."

Gross said she plans to sit down with Allen in the near future to discuss a possible "compromise" on the issue in order to not offend anyone in the community.

"The intent is great. I think it's a great representation of the patriotism that exists in Fort Scott," Gross said. "I think it's a great addition to Fort Scott High School. I believe the work that's gone into that, the effort that's gone into it, needs to be recognized. I just think there might be some other ways to give recognition for the work that's been done. But again, my recommendation to the board is that we sit down and talk about ways to maybe compromise."

Also during the public forum, citizen Arnold Schofield spoke, stating he did not feel the flag was in violation of any statement in the code of conduct.

"I think it's beautiful. I think it should remain," Schofield said. "I understand the controversy has come up over the advertising, and I politely disagree with anyone who feels that is advertising. I don't believe it is on the flag itself. That's very specific in the code of the flag."

Citizen Jay Armstrong also spoke, briefly addressing the safety of the flag display. Armstrong asked the board "to consider" whether there were any engineering drawings presented in relation to the display.

"So that would be one question for the board," Armstrong said. "Whether or not engineering drawings were done, whether or not they were reviewed by a registered professional engineer, whether or not there was a safety review done."