The city of Crystal Lake received “voluminous” complaints via telephone and email after the contractor on one of its road projects put Trump 2020 flags on its equipment, a city attorney said.
As a result, the city of Crystal Lake now is working on language that will prohibit future contractors from displaying political signs or postings, said Victor Filippini, special counsel for the city.
Geske and Sons Inc., the contractor whose equipment had the Trump 2020 flags displayed on it, is currently involved in two different projects in Crystal Lake.
Geske and Sons did not return multiple requests for comment this week. The company does paving work with counties, townships, municipalities and the state of Illinois, as well as private jobs, according to its website.
During a City Council meeting last month, one resident who lives in a neighborhood where Geske and Sons was resurfacing streets said the work itself looked great, but she was displeased when she saw the contractor flying political flags.
“I don’t believe that there’s any place for politics in this work,” the resident said. “I think it’s inappropriate. I think it’s a contentious time. And I think that was on purpose, and it’s uncomfortable for me and my family.”
When Crystal Lake first started receiving reports about the Trump flags, the city took a look at the contract to see whether it had any conditions regarding that kind of activity, and it turned out it did not, Filippini said.
Under Illinois’ prohibited political activity law, state employees cannot use state property or resources to engage in political activity benefiting a political campaign or organization. However, Filippini said, this does not apply to independent contractors for a governmental unit, such as Geske and Sons.
Although Crystal Lake never endorsed or authorized having Geske and Sons put up the Trump flags, Filippini said, if the city tried to prevent the company from doing so, it would be seen as a violation of its First Amendment rights, as the flag is considered free speech.
“The city was buying from them the work for the resurfacing, and it was entirely up to Geske how to do it,” Filippini said. “I mean, they could go out there wearing clown suits if they wanted to. That wasn’t the determination for the city. That’s for the contractor as an independent contractor.”
Still, the city reached out to Geske and Sons to explain the situation and the confusion that ensued from the flags. Filippini said that because the contractors were working on a city project, people thought the city was endorsing the flag, which is not the case.
“It has nothing to do with the candidate,” Filippini stressed in an interview Thursday. “The city simply doesn’t take positions on political races.”
Although the contractor removed the flags at first, it put them back up periodically, spurring another call from a Crystal Lake resident. Because of the lack of a contractual stipulation, the city’s response has been more requests than anything else, Filippini said.
“The city tries to be very respectful of the First Amendment rights of anybody,” Filippini said.
He said that in light of this predicament, Crystal Lake now is preparing some modified contract language saying that contractors working with the city cannot have advertising signs for political candidates, campaigns or commercial ventures.
This would not be a violation of the contractor’s First Amendment rights, Filippini said, as the city then would be enforcing a private contract with terms the contractor already agreed to abide by, just as they agree to abide by contracted work hours.