A recently released email cache shows a heated discussion among National Park Services (NPS) officials that ended with the declaration that they don’t own the flag pole in front of the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
When Barack Obama declared the Stonewall Inn a national monument, activists said that it was the first time that the rainbow flag was flown permanently on federal property.
But a review prompted by a Trump administration found that the flag pole isn’t located on federal property at all.
A short 2017 email in the 992-page email dump from then-assistant deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior Todd Willens read, “Can you please get details from NPS and report back?”
Willens ordered the flag to be removed that year, five days before a ceremony to honor the flag. After further emails, NPS officials determined that the flag pole was not located on federal property and was therefore a gift to New York City.
According to a 2015 land survey, the tiny, triangular Christopher Park is the only part of the much larger national monument that belongs to the federal government. The flag pole is located just outside of the park.
“The first thing that stood out was the absence of substantive information about what the controversy was about,” gay activist Michael Petrelis told E&E News. Petrelis’s emails are part of the email cache when he was requesting information about the flag.
“It was clear to me as longtime government transparency advocate that these were professional bureaucrats who knew not to memorialize in writing their substantive discussions.”
One official in the emails actually said as much. “Please keep in mind that this exchange could be subject to a FOIA request in the future,” wrote Philadelphia regional communications chief John Warren in an email.
“There was no public meeting or any public discussion,” Petrelis said. “They owed us a public discussion. The whole process was troublesome, to put it mildly.”
New York activist and organizer Ken Kidd said that he had positive dealings with New York NPS officials, until federal officials in D.C. got involved.
“The feds were washing their hands of the whole project — it was crazy town; it was shocking,” he said.
“The communication just changed completely and dramatically,” he said. “There was a little bit of radio silence, and then, as the emails will attest, the message changed, and then suddenly the flagpole wasn’t part of the federal envelope.”
NPS has declined comment on this story.