How Eagle County municipalities determine what flags to fly
A look at the various town and county policies around displaying flags
Driving around Eagle County, flags are aplenty. There are the flags of the United States, Colorado, and individual municipal flags. In Vail and Avon, the flags of countries that participated in previous Alpine World Ski Championships are on display
However, occasionally local governments will add other flags — including Avon’s flying of the Pride flag or both Avon and Vail flying the Ukrainian flag. This has previously led to some discussion and some controversy over what flags can and should be flown. Across the county, municipalities have differing approaches to which flags get raised, with some recently adopting policies around the topic.
Town of Vail
This month, the town of Vail finalized a new policy with regard to what flags it can fly on any flagpoles as well as which banners and decorations it can display on public streets owned or controlled by the town.
In a town memo outlining the need for this policy, it’s stipulated that a government entity choosing to fly a flag is government speech.
“Unlike the public’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the government is not required to display any and everything that is requested by members of the public. Rather, the city may choose to fly the non-governmental flags and commemorative flags of its choosing,” the memo reads.
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The policy gives the town guidelines when it does get requests.
The policy names certain flags that can be flown at any time — which includes the United States, Colorado, town, armed forces, 1999 World Ski Championships flags, and more — as well as a process for determining other flags that can be flown. It also stipulates that all flags must comply with the town’s sign code, which has stipulations on size, height, and more.
The final thing the policy stipulates is the town won’t display flags that are “obscene, or that are discriminatory toward any legally protected class.”
The Town Council got its first look at the policy at its May 2 meeting. The policy indicates that the Town Council could make an official proclamation to fly any other flag that’s not listed in its policy.
Town of Avon
At a basic level, the town of Avon’s policy around flags gives the Town Council the ability to determine what flags to fly other than the United States, Colorado and town flags.
“The intent and practice is to maintain the Avon flag poles as places of governmental speech and not a public free speech forum as defined by constitutional law. Avon Town Council makes the decisions on use of the Avon flagpoles in their discretion based on values they feel are reflective and appropriate for the Avon community,” wrote Eric Heil, Avon’s Town Manager, in an email to the Vail Daily.
As a result, it does not accept requests from private organizations or individuals.
The most recent application of this policy was toward the end of April, when Town Council gave direction to display a Ukrainian flag in response to two Ukrainian amputees coming to the area to receive prosthetic limbs. This is the second time in the past year that it has flown this particular flag, the first time being March 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Aside from this, the only other flag the town has displayed in the past three years has been the Pride flag, which it flew in 2021 for the Pride in the Park event and in 2022 for the month of June and has indicated it will fly for June and part of July this year.
The reason for flying this flag, Heil wrote, was “because Avon Town Council supports diversity, including legal rights and reforms that uphold diversity for all peoples.”
In all instances, Heil added that the town “closely consults with our Town Attorney on all governmental speech, free speech and constitutional matters.”
Town of Eagle
The town of Eagle follows the state flag statute with regard to the flags it will fly, according to Larry Pardee, the town’s manager. The town does not have anything additional municipal code or charter relating to flags.
Pardee pointed to a section of the Colorado Revised Statutes that relates to “unlawful to display flags” with regard to the flag statute it follows.
“Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or institutions on a permanent flagstaff located on a state, county, municipal, or other public building or on its grounds within this state commits a petty offense,” reads the first section.
The section goes on to list the flags that are exempt from this, which includes the display of United Nations flags; ceremonial or commemorative flags proclaimed by the president, governor, county commissioners, or mayor of a city or town; armed forces, prisoner of war and other veteran commemorative flags; and more.
Town of Gypsum
The town of Gypsum’s flag policy was recently brought into the public sphere after the town requested a Pride flag be removed from the town-owned Gypsum Rec Center. The flag had been displayed by Mountain Recreation — which operates the facility — after initially being denied permission to fly it.
In its response to the matter, the Gypsum Town Council indicated that it wouldn’t display symbols that were “political, ideological or religious” on government property.
In an email to the Vail Daily, Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann indicated that the town will fly the Colorado state flag and the United States flag.
“The town doesn’t fly flags for special causes, interest groups, organizations, etc.,” Rietmann wrote.
Rietmann wrote that town’s job “is to serve everyone in our community to the best of our ability regardless of race, creed, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity/expression, ability, political affiliation, etc.”
“We know we serve people from every walk of life who hold a wide array of political, cultural, religious and other beliefs and our view is that small communities like ours should make sure we remain accessible, credible and available to assist with any citizen’s needs across all those varying perspectives,” Rietmann wrote.
The ultimate goal is that the town’s facilities be “focused on the services we provide to our citizens and to remain universally welcoming to all regardless of anyone’s politics or their immutable characteristics,” he said.
At the county level, Justin Patrick, the county’s strategic director of communications, said he was unaware of “any formal policy or identified need for a formal policy.”
In January 2023, Patrick indicated that the county “has not flown any flags on its property other than the county, state and American flags.”
Patrick added that the county does “temporarily display materials — typically signs or banners — that are supportive of county programs or activities.”
This includes materials displayed for county initiatives such as Child Abuse Prevention Month, voter registration awareness, public health campaigns, and other similar instances where those materials are displayed for a short period of time.