Thursday afternoon at Milwaukee City Hall, the Milwaukee Common Council’s Steering and Rules Committee voted 6-2 to refer the matter of officially adopting the so-called “People’s Flag of Milwaukee” to the Milwaukee Arts Board. The Board will have until December 31 to decide if a new flag is needed, if the “People’s Flag” should be adopted, or if an entirely new process should be established to create a different one.

“This is not a ‘no,’ it’s a pause,” said Council President Ashanti Hamilton to the “People’s Flag” supporters in attendance.

The meeting was originally meant to vote on a resolution asking that Robert Lenz’s “Sunrise Over the Lake”—the winning design from a 2016 contest organized by Greater Together and the People’s Flag of Milwaukee Design Initiative—be adopted as the official flag of Milwaukee. The matter would have then been sent to the full Common Council for a final vote. But an 11th hour substitute resolution from Ald. Robert Bauman suggested involving the Milwaukee Arts Board and making the process a city-sponsored one. (An amendment from Ald. Mark Borkowski added the year-end deadline.) According to Bauman’s substitute resolution:

Whereas, Any process to design and adopt a new flag must include input from the entire community through an open, transparent, and inclusive process that includes public hearings open to all segments of the community; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, By the Common Council of the City of Milwaukee, that the Arts Board shall develop a process to determine whether a new flag is necessary; and, be it

Further Resolved, That if the Arts Board determines a new flag is necessary, the Arts Board is directed to establish and implement a process for the consideration, review, and possible recommendation of one or more designs for a new official City flag; and be it

Further Resolved, That if the Arts Board determines a new flag is necessary, it shall develop estimates of the cost to fully implement the adoption of a new flag.

Bauman was highly critical of the “People’s Flag” initiative, saying it had not been an “inclusive process,” and that Milwaukeeans without access to social media and computers had been left out. He said that people in his district—many of them African-Americans—were offended at the “People’s Flag” process. “It should be unanimous, or we should be punting,” he said.

The flag’s resemblance to the flag of Reno, Nevada was also brought up, leading to some “But they copied us!” replies from the main driver behind the “People’s Flag” initiative, graphic designer Steve Kodis. Ald. Nik Kovac invoked a Milwaukee Record piece on the flags’ similarities, noting both campaigns’ strict adherence to the restrictive “principles of good flag design.”

A testy exchange ensued when Ald. Russell Stamper questioned how and why the color white in the “People’s Flag” was meant to represent “unity.” Kodis and Lenz whitesplained some flag theory. “That’s your opinion,” Stamper said.

Kodis, Lenz, Greater Together’s Ken Hanson, and AIGA president Drew Lettner kicked off the meeting with a presentation stressing the power of flags, the idea of changing Milwaukee’s narrative and brand, and the fact that the “Sunrise Over the Lake” design is already everywhere.

The original resolution was sponsored by Aldermen Khalif Rainey and Cavalier Johnson. Former sponsor Ald. Robert Donovan asked for his name to be removed earlier this week, though he did reveal that he had entered his own design in the initial “People’s Flag” contest.

Back in 2016, “Sunrise Over the Lake” was picked from more than 1,000 initial entries, which were narrowed down to the top 50, then narrowed down to the top five by a panel of judges, and then voted on by the public. Roughly 6,000 votes were cast in total.

Kodis’ efforts to change the flag—or at least produce an alternate, unofficial flag—go back to at least 2013. His current push was inspired by a 2015 TED Talk in which designer and podcast host Roman Mars called the Milwaukee flag a “hot mess” and one of the worst in the country. And you shan’t offend the great Roman Mars.

“If the headline drops, ‘Milwaukee Adopts New City Flag,’ can you imagine the demand that there would be?” Kodis recently told CBS 58. “There’s a lot of tangible value there.” Looks like that headline, demand, and tangible value will have to wait.

Here’s the full text of the resolution adopted today:

Whereas, In 1950, the Art Commission (now the Arts Board) voted to hold a citywide design competition for an official City flag; and

Whereas, The Art Commission approved a design submitted by Ald. Fred Steffan, which was the incorporation of the best elements from several of the winning designs of the flag design competition, and which is the current official City flag; and

Whereas, The current City flag was formally presented to and accepted by the Common Council on behalf of the City of Milwaukee on January 25, 1955; and

Whereas, The Common Council has determined that the collage of imagery used to symbolize the City of Milwaukee in the 1955 design are no longer appropriate or reflective of Milwaukee today; and

Whereas, Design alterations to the City flag fall under the jurisdiction of the Arts Board; and

Whereas, Section 320-12-4-a of the Milwaukee Code states that “before any municipal building, bridge, approach or other structure, project or public arts project is constructed, installed or altered by the city, its design shall be submitted to the board for examination and report before final working drawings have been started or any contract has been let”; and

Whereas, Common Council Resolution File Number 001699, adopted August 2, 2001, established a flag design competition with specific procedures set froth for a city-wide design contest; and

Whereas, The resolution was later amended on September 5, 2001, by Common Council Resolution File Number 010631, which provided for a statewide competition instead of limiting the design competition to City residents; and

Whereas, Common Council Resolution File Number 011376, which was placed on file December 19, 2003, stated that the Common Council would select the new City flag from among the top five entries submitted; and

Whereas, No winning design was selected from among the entries in that competition; and

Whereas, In 2016, an unofficial flag design competition was organized by a local nonprofit, Greater Together, and the People’s Flag of Milwaukee Design Initiative; and

Whereas, More than 1,000 entries were submitted by the public, the entries were narrowed down to five finalists by a panel of judges, including historian John Gurda, the finalists were unveiled at City Hall by Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton, and the public had the opportunity to rate each final design on a scale of 1-10 to determine a winning entry; and

Whereas, Any process to design and adopt a new flag must include input from the entire community through an open, transparent, and inclusive process that includes public hearings open to all segments of the community; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, By the Common Council of the City of Milwaukee, that the Arts Board shall develop a process to determine whether a new flag is necessary; and, be it Further Resolved, That if the Arts Board determines a new flag is necessary, the Arts Board is directed to establish and implement a process for the consideration, review, and possible recommendation of one or more designs for a new official City flag; and be it

Further Resolved, That if the Arts Board determines a new flag is necessary, it shall develop estimates of the cost to fully implement the adoption of a new flag.

About The Author

Matt Wild
Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.

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