Confederate flag dispute defused in West St. Paul
By Nick Ferraro
Facing criticism, a West St. Paul City Council member says he has removed a Confederate flag from the back deck of his house.
But Ed Hansen didn’t take the banner down because of negative community reaction.
Rather, he said at Monday night’s city council meeting, the flag had become a distraction because people "wanted to get into debates about Civil War history."
He reiterated what he said last week: He sees the flag as a symbol of free speech and individual liberty.
Last week the mayor criticized Hansen, a first-term council member elected in 2010, and asked him to remove the flag. Hansen refused.
A developer who is building a house next door to Hansen’s said the flag caused a prospective buyer to shy away after touring the property in the 1100 block of Felix Street. Hansen’s flag includes the word "redneck."
Hansen said he was not concerned that the flag has historically been known as a controversial symbol of racism.
At Monday evening’s council meeting, Hansen took more heat.
Resident Ken Paulman was one of two residents who spoke during the citizen comment period and asked Hansen to remove the flag.
Hansen later said during council comments that he already had taken the banner down before the meeting.
"I fully support your right as a private citizen to fly whatever flag you want at your house," Paulman said. "That’s your right. The problem is that councilman Hansen, you are not a private citizen. And when you chose to take this job, you became a public official. And what that means – whether you think that’s fair or not – is you are held to a higher standard."
Resident Robert Allen called the flag "offensive" and asked Hansen to apologize. He said he was "appalled" by Hansen’s refusal to take it down and asked that the council censure him.
"By the way, Mr. Hansen, I do live in Ward 1, but you do not represent me," Allen said.
Hansen did not apologize during council comments, instead saying people should "not be so thin-skinned and get so easily offended."
"I’d like to say I’m getting a lot of positive feedback also," he said.
Hansen is a franchise owner of a Rocco’s Pizza in Little Canada, and on Monday, Jim Bauer, corporate president of Rocco’s Pizza, called the flag "in poor taste."
Bauer said he had a long conversation with Hansen about the flag Monday and that Hansen told him he was going to remove it.
"I was upset," Bauer said. "It doesn’t reflect Rocco’s Pizza in any way shape or form. I don’t condone the flying of the Confederate flag for whatever reason. I think he went about trying to get his point across in the wrong way."
After the council meeting, Paulman said a friend of his had emailed Bauer about the flag. Paulman accused Hansen of taking it down only because of Bauer’s opposition.
"When his personal business is in jeopardy, he takes it down," Paulman said.
In 2010, Hansen won the city’s 1st Ward seat with 809 votes – 61 more than his nearest challenger.
In a candidate forum with Town Square Television, a local cable access station, Hansen called himself a "constitutional moderate" who, if elected, would reinvigorate the city’s business environment through "less government meddling" and "lower taxes."
Last summer, he was opposed to the idea of a city property tax increase to pay for a new ice arena and seasonal indoor sports dome. And in September, he cast the lone "no" vote against an ordinance that puts a cap on the number of rental licenses for single-family homes in a residential block.
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