WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - A 4-0 vote by Williamson County Commissioners Tuesday created a new policy: only the US, Texas and county flags will be allowed to fly at county offices. County Judge Bill Gravell said the decision was not a statement against the gay community.
“I think the answer is no. It’s a statement against any flag other than the United States flag, Texas flag and our Williamson County flag,” Gravell said.
The vote essentially rejected a request to fly the rainbow pride flag by two justices of the peace, Judge KT Musselman and Judge Stacy Hackenberg. They wanted to put up the pride flag outside of their offices in Taylor and Round Rock.
“Today’s decision is certainly a disappointment, but I recognized it’s one that the court would most likely make,” said Musselman.
Before the hearing, Gravell ran an informal poll on his Facebook account. He said the response from Williamson County residents was almost entirely against flying anything beyond the state and national flags. That objection from the poll was voiced again during the hearing.
“Those two flags [the Texas and U.S.] adequately represent every single soul in this country and in this building,” said John Frias.
Three people did speak in support of the idea. Zack Rodriguez told the court he is gay and that the pride flag discussion is about him.
“I just want you to think about the sacrifice and the courage and the bravery both the rainbow flag and the POW, MIA flag represent, these,” said Rodriguez.
The inclusion of the POW/MIA flag, in the initial request, was not viewed as a compliment by some at the hearing. Military veteran James Burnson considered the idea as an unacceptable trade off.
“Frankly I’m incensed the flag that represents us has been cheapened and is being turned into sugar water to wash down this bitter pill,” said Burnson.
During the hearing the two justices admitted they had not fully vetted their request with the State Judicial Commission. Gravell raised the concern that displaying the pride flag could violate the judicial code of conduct which prohibits political symbols in and outside of courtrooms. Gravell said all judges have to comply with those rules.
“I don’t think the JPs overstepped, I think the justices of the peace had something that was important to them and something that was personal to them, I think perhaps what they underestimated was that their decision for their office or their building has a greater impact,” Gravell said.
Hackenberg had indicated she would fly the pride flag regardless of the vote. On Tuesday afternoon she backed off that statement.
“I’m going to do a little research and make sure I can actually get away with that, I wanna make sure I’m not violating any ethical considerations,” Hackenberg said.
Hackenburg did say, at the very least, she plans to have both the pride and POW/MIA flags in her office.
The vote does not apply to schools or fire departments across Williamson County. They are their own governmental bodies and set their own policy regarding flags. A banner at the county emergency services center will have to come down.