Just days before construction crews were ready to pour the foundation for the three flagpoles planned for the center of the Five Points roundabout, city leaders received two urgent e-mails asking them to reconsider.
“The Sarasota downtown district has been designated a national historic district,” wrote Dr. Rich Swier, president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission. “It is incumbent on us all to restore Five Points to its original condition.”
Swier wanted to see one flagpole only, with the stars and stripes on it.
Sarasota historian Jeff LaHurd backed up Swier, saying three flagpoles is not historically correct.
After reading the two e-mails, city leaders quickly added the issue to the agenda of a special City Commission meeting July 29 for commissioners to decide.
Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins said he was concerned that an e-mail from just two people could cause such an immediate reaction from city management.
Then, Commissioner Terry Turner provided more details.
“Neither (of the e-mailers) is a city resident or city voter,” he said. “This process was thoroughly vetted.”
Atkins replied: “Then, why are we here?
“I have the same question,” said Turner. “I don’t know why we’re here.”
The three-flagpole design was the consensus result of a series of neighborhood and commission meetings. The American flag will fly above the other flagpoles, which will fly the state flag and city of Sarasota flag.
The criticism of not strictly adhering to history has its roots in the city’s desire to pay homage to a World War I-era feature in the Five Points Intersection.
Sarasota pioneer Bertha Palmer had a flagpole erected in the middle of the intersection. The message, “Welcome buddies,” was painted there to honor returning soldiers in 1917.
The city will restore that message in the center of the roundabout, including the “Welcome buddies” message.
A commemorative plaque explaining the history of Five Points will be placed beneath the clock tower in Five Points Park.
After a discussion of less than five minutes, commissioners unanimously voted to keep the three-flagpole plan intact.
“We’re doing all we can to enhance history,” said Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. “We are still honoring veterans.”
After the vote, Swier said he was not displeased.
“We support whatever the city wants to do,” he said. “They listened to us and voted on it. That’s all we can ask.”
The Sarasota County Veterans Commission is planning a dedication of the Five Points intersection Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day.
“We have the wonderful opportunity to raise the American flag, which is what we all fought for,” said Dr. Rich Swier, president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission.
If not for some last-minute maneuvering, the July 29 City Commission meeting would have been canceled.
Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Dick Clapp had already announced that they would not be attending. That left three commissioners, the minimum for a quorum.
However, Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins had a family emergency at the last minute. City staff tracked Atkins down on his cell phone, and the vice mayor conducted the meeting, while he stood outside a hospital in Highlands County.