“I’ve had numerous calls about the flag,” Mayor Rusty Jessup said. “Residents are concerned about the way the flag makes the city look. They have asked if the city put the flag up — we did not.”
Jessup said the flag in question is attached to a sign at the intersection of U.S. 78 and Depot Street. It is located on private property and not on the state or city right of way.
“It’s on private property, but on a public thoroughfare,” he said.
Jessup said a Confederate flag was first put up last week. The first flag was stolen and another Confederate flag was put up a few days later.
“Unfortunately, this incident serves no other purpose than to try to stir up trouble in a town where there’s never been trouble like this by a person who is mad at the city because he did not get his way,” Jessup said. “It’s not a demonstration of Southern heritage or decorative ambiance. It is disgraceful that someone would use this symbol in such a way. Incidents such as this are why that flag has taken on a meaning other than its original intention, and that is shameful. My concern is not whether or not the perpetrator is a racist. My concern is that I live in this town and it is a concern for me as a citizen that people may think there are racial tensions in a town where there are not racial tensions, which is exactly what the owner of the flag wants to create.”
Riverside resident Jimmy Hathcox, who owns the property and put up the flag, said it’s all about politics.
“I didn’t put the flag up to stir up trouble,” he said. “It was the only way to draw the mayor and council out of their shells. They put the screws to me and I’m trying to put the screws back to them.”
Hathcox said the issue began about two years ago when his neighbor, Riverside city attorney Liz Parsons, was having her house remodeled.
“The contractor paving the driveway cleaned out the concrete chutes in the ditch across the road,” he said. “I asked them not to do it and they did it anyway. The ditch had been overgrown, and my wife and I spent almost all summer cleaning it out.”
Hathcox said he spoke with the Parsons family to get the ditch cleaned up.
“I left town for three weeks and when I came back there was concrete still in the ditch,” he said.
Hathcox said about a week after that, he saw the concrete chutes being emptied again in the ditch and blocked the contractor’s truck in with his vehicle.
“I said I’d move my truck if he would clean out the ditch,” Hathcox said. “The police came and made me move my car.”
Hathcox said he addressed the mayor and council at a council meeting to try and get the issue resolved.
“I went into Rusty’s office and we were talking,” he said. “I said how about if I go and buy five yards of concrete and go up in the Highlands (a Riverside subdivision) and poured it in their ditches. He said, ‘No, no, no, you can’t do that.’ I asked why not because they came and poured it in this ditch and walked off.”
Hathcox said the first flag he put up was stolen, and he reported the incident to the Police Department.
“I told the police chief (Rick Oliver) my stipulations for getting the flag down,” he said. “I want Rusty and Liz both to apologize and Rusty to not run for any office in St. Clair County. Is he going to put his wants above the city of Riverside?”
Jessup said he heard about the stipulations for getting the flag taken down from several sources, but not directly from Hathcox.
“Laughable, and while we are laughing my response is I don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Jessup said.
He said the contractor had cleaned up the ditch and apologized for the incident.
“The normal thing we do with contractors is ask them to put any extra little concrete in the ditches to keep them from eroding,” he said.
Hathcox said the contractor did apologize for the incident about six months after it happened.
“I am sorry he is upset,” Parsons said. “No one in my family has ever tried to do anything to hurt Mr. Hathcox. We have always tried to be good neighbors. If Mr. Hathcox wants an apology from me, all he has to do is ask me and I will apologize for whatever perceived wrong happened.”
Parsons said she does not support Hathcox putting up an offensive flag.
Two Riverside residents were present at a Tuesday council work session asking if the city could do anything to have the flag removed.
“One of the residents asked about doing a petition,” Councilwoman Rachelle Painter said. “I recommend doing a petition and writing one letter and making one phone call expressing their feelings on the matter to Mr. Hathcox. Not harassment, but just one letter and one phone call and having their friends do the same.”
Painter said the city legally can’t do anything to prevent Hathcox from expressing his opinions and First Amendment rights on his private property.
“I don’t necessarily agree with what he is doing, but from a legal standpoint we can’t prevent it,” she said.
Jessup said the sign itself that the flagpole is attached to may be in violation of a city ordinance.
Councilman Jimmy Hollander said Hathcox wants to draw negative attention to the city and the mayor and council.
“As a councilman, I am very much interested in finding a diplomatic solution between him and the residents complaining about the flag and resolve the situation,” Hollander said.
Oliver said the Police Department has received a number of calls regarding the flag.
“Since it’s on private property, there are no ordinances I’ve found so far that would allow the city to remove it,” he said.
Councilman Bill Cantley said he would like to see the situation resolved peacefully.
“There is a proper time and place for it, but the way the flag is currently being exhibited is not a proper use for it,” he said.
Councilman Rob Hayes said he doesn’t necessarily approve of the flag, but it is being flown on private property.
“I don’t want to infringe on his First Amendment rights,” he said. “It is not on public property and not a matter for the city to be involved with, in my opinion.”
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.