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Tom Bonfield’s Gutsiest Decision – The Confederate Flag

Posted on August 19, 2014


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`Stars And Bars’ Replaces Battle Flag In Pensacola

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As a follow up to the 50 Nifty profile, Tom Bonfield, Durham (NC) city manager, has provided an answer to the question,”What is the gutsiest decision you ever made?”

Pensacola was discovered in 1559 and some would argue is “America’s Oldest Settlement”.  Since 1559 Pensacola has been governed and flown under five different governance flags: Spain, France, England, Confederate, United States (governance changed multiple times over 450 years) and as a result Pensacola proudly calls itself the “City of Five Flags” .  The five flags are displayed at most government facilities throughout the City and on city logos etc.

I became city manager in Pensacola in November 1998.  Up until early 2000, the flag to depict the Confederate period was the Confederate Battle Flag, to some a symbol of hate and racism and to others a symbol of southern pride.  In late January 2000 (a little over one year on the job) I ordered the Confederate battle flags be replaced with the First Flag of the Confederacy as it was the historically correct flag for government buildings (the Confederate battle flag was only used in battle!). Because under the city charter the city manager was responsible for public buildings and grounds and the city council had never formally adopted a city logo of five flags I advised the mayor and city council what I had done but did not ask their permission and advised them if they wanted to direct me to restore the battle flag they would need to do it by a vote at a public meeting.  I received hundreds of hate emails and letters and city council chambers were packed with folks wanting me fired.  Ultimately a historical review committee was established (chaired by a Federal Judge) who conducted four months on hearings and testimony.  The panel determined that in fact the First Flag of the Confederacy was the official flag that flew over the City of Pensacola during the Confederate Period.  The city council voted to concur with the determination of the historical review committee.  The new flags remained, the city logo was modified and First Flag of the Confederacy remains today representing the Confederate Period for the City of Five Flags. I left Pensacola in 2008 to become the city manager in Durham, NC.

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