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Orange County Planning Director Weighs In On Effort To Limit Flag Sizes

Tom Bullock / WFAE
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans raising a large Confederate flag in Alexander County in February.

Several mega Confederate flags have gone up recently along highways northwest of Charlotte. The group Sons of Confederate Veterans are behind the flags, saying it’s putting them up in response to Confederate monuments coming down in the state.  The group says it wants to put up a flag in every North Carolina county.

Last weekend another large confederate flag went up in Orange County by a different group.  In response, Orange County officials are proposing limiting the size of outdoor flags to 4 by 6 feet and the height of flag poles to 24 feet.  The county attorney has urged local leaders to approach the issue carefully, saying it could lead to lawsuits.  WFAE's Marshall Terry spoke with Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict about the issue.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for brevity.  (You can listen to the full interview above)

Q: Are the proposed changes that the county is looking at in direct response to this large Confederate flag that went up?

A: Yes, it was. There was a concern that we should have flag regulations no matter what type of flag there is so that everybody has an equal right to their presenting information that they may want to put on a flag.

Q: The county attorney has urged caution when approaching this issue because it could lead to lawsuits. Does that concern you?

A: We've fashioned an ordinance that we think is fair and consistent with other ordinances that have been developed in North Carolina, so we do not have a direct concern over that.

Q: It was a specific flag though that prompted these possible changes. Does that make it a First Amendment issue then?

A: No, our ordinance says nothing about what type of flag. All our flag regulations are content neutral. So no matter what is on the flag, that's not legislated within our ordinance.

Q: How much concern have confederate flags generated in Orange County especially as I said a lot of these mega flags have been going up across the state recently?

A: When it was brought to our attention, the commissioners have a part of their agenda where people can voice concerns over issues in the community. So at times over the last few months there have been some meetings where there's been 15 to 20 people that have expressed concern.

Q: Is there any concern that the Confederate flags affect economic development, sending a message the county doesn't want to send to people of color?

A: As the planning director, I’m not going to directly make comments on that. That's possibly the perception of the community. But I'm not going to make any direct inferences about that.

Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.