Lithopolis American flag photos create tension between voters, city government

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In the small town of Lithopolis, it's a talker.

"It" is inside a building off West Columbus Street where dozens of American flags are stored inside a canister.

Monday, the flags were rolled up and neatly displayed. However, some say, they weren't always like that.

Mayor Scott Gilliland says politics are ugly, but in a town of 1,400 people, it's even worse.

"Small town politics is a more ugly thing," he said.

It started last week when photos were brought to the attention of city council that apparently show American flags tossed aside in a trash receptacle.

The photos were taken by Lori Ryan. She says she took them Thursday, Aug. 7.

"I just think that's wrong for taking care of our flags that way," she said.

She says she was in the storage building after helping with a recent town event.

Gilliland says he didn't store the flags the way the pictures show.

"I am a patriot," he said. "I am an American. I would not store the flags in that manner."

Another picture shows Gilliland taking down American flags and placing them in that receptacle.

Gilliland says it was back in July when he took the flags down. They had been displayed on street lights for holidays such as Memorial Day and July Fourth. He says someone needed to take them down, so he stepped up. He says the heat index was about 100 degrees that day, so he was getting them down quickly and moving on.

"What I did was what I needed to do to function by myself to take down the flags," he said. "When I took the flags down I pulled the fabric back and put the flags in the tote, fabric first."

He did that, he says, so the canister wouldn't become top heavy and tip over. He says he didn't want an American flag touching the ground.

He also points out the photo of him was from July and wonders why it's just now coming to light if someone believes he did something wrong.

"Why would you wait two months to post pictures, other than its closer to an election," he said.

Gilliland says the canister, though it looks like a trash can, was never for trash. In fact, he says it was purchased for the sole purpose of installing and removing flags.

Some veterans in Lithopolis, however, don't see it the same way.

"I think it's more ignorance than anything," Steve Lester said.

Lester is an Army veteran. He served for 14 years. He says it doesn't look good to put an American flag in a trash receptacle.

"There's a proper way that you handle the American flag," he said. "This is definitely not it. It's more than just material that happens to be red, white and blue with 50 stars on it. It's the sacrifice of people who defended that flag and what it symbolizes."

Gilliland says when the flags went to storage in July, they were taken care of.

"Once I had all of the flags down that were on poles, I rolled up the flags and I stored them properly," he said.

Gilliland says many people have keys and access to the downtown storage building and that anyone could have been responsible for the flags being cluttered inside the canister.

According to military experts, how Gilliland took down the flags is perfectly fine. They say as long as there was no trash inside the canister, and as long as the flags do not touch the ground, there's nothing wrong about using a trash receptacle for transportation.

Gilliland also says the city has retired American flags before. When that happens, he says he properly folds them and then gives them to the local American Legion for a proper ceremony and disposal.

Gilliland says to keep the peace in the future, he will take the time to properly roll each flag, before placing them in the canister.