In turbulent times, why open door to unnecessary conflict?

We don’t think we’re being hyperbolic in noting that a lot of controversy has erupted over Lebanon Mayor Paul Aziz’s decision not to issue a proclamation saluting June’s Pride Month.
As our report starting on page 1 recounts, there’s been some flak flying around over that.
Watching from the sidelines, we’re prompted to ask a broader question: Why issue proclamations at all? Is the practice incumbent upon city leaders, the government?
Before grabbing your writing tablet or phone, hear us out.
The purpose of proclamations issued by government at any level is generally to recognize, honor or celebrate an exceptional achievement of some kind, a special event or action, or to stand behind a cause or a significant issue.
Anyone who regularly attends public meetings by ruling authorities – councils, county commissions or supervisors, state or federal legislative bodies – is very familiar with the practice.
All well and good, it would seem. Events are often worth celebrating – particularly in the post-COVID era. Causes, by their very nature, require support.
But should that come from the elected leaders?
Lebanon’s stated mission is dedication to “providing exceptional services and opportunities that enhance the quality of life for present and future members of the community.” That’s the City Council’s responsibility: to create an environment in which residents can thrive.
Certainly, lining up behind citizens and their activities and interests, either individually or in a group, could contribute to that mission.
But the problem with proclamations is they are by nature discriminatory – not necessarily by design, but because it would be unadvisable, if not foolish, for a governing body, such as the City Council, to try to accommodate every individual or cause that comes down the pike.
So therefore, the mayor, or whoever makes those decisions for a particularly body, must discriminate between what they are going to issue a proclamation for and what they are not.
In the post-COVID world, we are not only happily celebrating the return of public celebrations and activities such as the Strawberry Festival, but we have also come through a period in which a lot of people who had previously been focusing on other things, have become very politically aware – and opinionated, to the point of acrimony in some cases.
In that environment, it would seem to be in a governing body’s best interest to not take sides at all. If standing up or not standing up for one side causes community discord, that wouldn’t seem to contribute to a mission such as Lebanon’s.
There are definitely fairness issues here, regardless of how supportive or not we all feel about a certain cause. If we were, for instance, to convince the mayor to issue a proclamation celebrating the births of young wild turkeys in the spring, the wonder of life, their contribution to life in Lebanon, there would likely be varying reactions.
Or how about Celebrate Drones Day? (Yeah, we made that one up too.) It would commemorate the contributions of the devices to public safety and cool nature documentaries, with accommodating proclamations. But it also would likely arouse ire from those who don’t like whirring birds photographing them as they sun themselves in their fenced back yards.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the city of Boston, Mass., violated the First Amendment when it rejected a request to display a Christian flag on a flagpole in front of City Hall – after allowing other private groups to fly their own flags on that pole.
The issue there, the court ruled, was that flying the flag was a form of expression and the denial of the plaintiff’s request to fly his flag while allowing others to do so constituted a constitutional violation.
Certainly, issuing proclamations is not a legal concern, but a similar principle of fairness hovers in the background. Basically, proclamations put the city government in a position of supporting or, at least in the eyes of those who want a one but don’t get it, not supporting a particular cause.
To avoid this type of quandary, justified or not, the city might be well-advised to either acutely designate how and why it will or will not issue a proclamation, or call it quits on the practice.