The ban, part of a broader prohibition on anything deemed inappropriate by the commissioners court, came as a result of last year’s Western Week Celebration.
“I think this should have never have been allowed,” said Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez during Monday’s court meeting.
“I got a call right after the Western Week Celebration about a Confederate flag being flown. Not only was it being flown, but there were guns going up in the air.”
Rodriguez said that he asked others, and they too had received complaints about the flag.
“Bee County commissioners and/ or Expo Center management reserves the right to reject any offensive language or displays, including the Confederate flag, or other offensive flags, banners, posters, signs, etc., that it feels are inappropriate or offensive and will not (be) permitted to be displayed at any part of the Expo grounds during any and all events,” the new clause in the Expo Center rental agreement reads.
County Attorney Mike Knight said that the county has the right to ban the Confederate battle flag, nicknamed the Stars and Bars, as part of the agreement for use of the Expo grounds.
“That is fine if the court wants that in the contract. Then you simply need to vote on that particular issue, and it will be included, subject to the acceptance or rejection of any show promoter,” he said.
Knight urged the court to offer guidance to those renting the grounds as the new exclusions are broad in scope.
“Anyone who is going to conduct any type of event on the grounds has to know what to expect,” he said.
This new contract with the included ban was not approved by unanimous vote.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar, Rodriguez and Judge David Silva voted to approve the ban. Commissioners Dennis DeWitt and Ken Haggard voted against it.
DeWitt voiced concern that the ban was too far reaching and was verging on a limitation of free speech.
“We have constitutional issues of free speech,” he said. “It is a touchy subject.”
Rodriguez was adamant that the flag not be allowed on county property and that the clause be included in the contract.
“The Confederate flag symbolizes a dark period in American history,” Rodriguez said. “It symbolizes a period of hatred, discrimination, murder, lynching of innocent people by the Klu Klux Klan.
“It is demeaning, demoralizing, and it brings back terrible memories.
“The flying of the Confederate flag cannot be morally defended by anyone.
“The flying of the Confederate battle flag or similar flags, including the Texas Confederate flag, has no place in our society.
“The flag certainly has no place in Bee County.”
Rodriguez said that other flags, such as college flags, are flown, but those do not offend visitors to the Expo Center.
“We make the rules,” he said. “It is our property.
“It is comparable to sexual harassment. It is all in the eye of the person being harassed.”
Knight said that as written the county was within its rights to ban inappropriate and offense language and symbols.
“We have the ability to control the use of county property,” he said. “But we have to balance that against other interests.”
Reagan Scott, with the Go Texan organization and the Western Week Celebration, said that he wasn’t there Monday to voice an opinion about the court’s decision, only to voice his concern of the repercussions.
“Our main concern is that there is going to be a political backlash out at our event because of disagreements based on heritage of the Confederate flag or lack thereof, its beliefs or not.
“What we don’t want to do is hamper our organization or this event...”
This year’s Western Week Celebration at the Expo grounds runs Oct. 18 and 19.
Reagan said that he spoke to the group who flew the flag, who he did not name, and they agreed not to fly the flag this year.
“I have been in contact with them and asked them to make concessions, and they have agreed to do things in a different way,” he said.
He added that as the limitations are written, it gives no definitive guidelines to those renting the Expo grounds beyond just the issue of the flag.
“My concern is the section is very broad,” he said. “There are no limitations or guidelines in it or standards in it.
“I don’t know where this starts or stops.
“I would ask that the laws be applied that are in existence instead of creating new guidelines outside of those laws.”
Rodriguez defended his motion.
“If there is a political backlash that is fine,” he said. “I would rather have that than a human backlash.
“By us voting to allow this flag, or those voting to on this board, it is going to represent you as a racist.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.