Most towns and cities in The County have welcome signs at their borders, especially along major roads. They are handy for both residents and travelers.
But a week ago, the Route 1 welcome sign on the southern side of Presque Isle, the largest city in The County, took on some extra decoration: two Trump 2020 flags bracketed to either side of the sign.
The flags, according to Sarah LeClair of Aroostook Acts Against Hate, were put up just before or over the weekend of Sept. 12, although who installed them is unclear.
Set back almost 15 feet from the road, the sign is on private land well off the city’s or state’s highway easement along Route 1 and thus is beyond city regulation. But by Sept. 14, nearly 180 people had reacted to a photo posted on the Aroostook Acts Against Hate Facebook page, so officials took what action they could.
Kevin Freeman, chair of the Presque Isle City Council, said that the first calls and concerns had come to the city on Friday, Sept. 18, adding that there is some confusion exactly over who added the flags and even the status of the sign itself.
“After some complaints Friday afternoon regarding the appearance of the city endorsing one candidate or viewpoint,” Freeman wrote in an email, “a call was made to the landowner to consider the appearance and whether it was appropriate. Saturday afternoon the political signs and brackets were removed from the Welcome sign.”
The sign was constructed and donated as a gift to Presque Isle 23 years ago, Freeman said, and the annual upkeep is the donor’s responsibility.
Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett, also by email, said the city does not have any permits on file for when the sign was installed or documentation about the ownership of the sign, but was continuing to investigate the ownership. He added that similar types of signage have paperwork pertaining to a lease, easement, installation, maintenance agreement, insurance coverage, but there is no such documentation for that sign.
While the donated sign benefits both travelers and residents, comments on the AAAH Facebook page ranged from utter outrage to comments that the flags seemed to be the city’s endorsement of Trump and were inappropriate.
The Trump flags have been removed from the sign to a tract farther away from both the road and the sign, but the effect on the community at large has been unsettling. Individual citizens and city officials are concerned that a political flag-bedecked welcome sign might indicate a city endorsement in politics. Others have defended the right to free speech, even if expressed in a flag on a sign welcoming people to the city.
One thing is sure. Politics right now is divisive.
Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.