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Rochester City Council rejects calls to dismiss Park Board president

Council president and mayor call for respectful dialogue as residents cite anger about comments regarding how flag might be viewed by others.

Rochester council.JPG
Rochester Council members, Mayor Kim Norton and City Administrator Alison Zelms meet online Monday, April 19, 2021. (screengrab)
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Calls for the dismissal of Rochester Park Board President Linnea Archer in reaction to comments about the American flag were rejected Monday.

“Ms. Archer should immediately resign her position,” Rochester resident Brad Trahan told the Rochester City Council during its open comment period. “Her comments are outlandish.”

RELATED: Rochester Park Board president's comments about American flag spark debate

During the roundtable comments held at the end of the April Park Board meeting, Archer said adding a second flag to Soldiers Field Park might not sit well with some residents.

“I’m not suggesting we not have it there, because it’s appropriate, but the American flag for many is patriotic, but for others, it is a sign of injustices,” she said, having already supported the flag’s inclusion as part of the board’s unanimous approval of the memorial agreement.

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Archer asked her fellow Park Board members to keep in mind that symbols, such as flags, can be well intentioned and still cause conflict for people who might not feel represented in the community.

“I know for myself, when I lived in a different area of the country, the American flag was used as a hateful thing,” she said, apparently pointing to the use of American flags as a threat to non-Caucasian residents in some communities.

Trahan, who noted that he has a son in the active-duty military, said he objects to Archer’s comments about how some people might view the flag.

“The American flag is a sign and symbol of freedom, nothing more, nothing less,” he said, suggesting the council remove Archer from the board if she doesn’t resign.

“Ms. Archer’s personal beliefs and comments did not need to be said at that time, at that moment,” he said. “This was a Park Board meeting in progress that had not yet adjourned, therefore an official meeting.”

Council President Brooke Carlson said the council supports open dialogue during such meetings and believes it’s part of good governance.

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“As individuals, not all council members feel the same way about comments shared at the Park Board meeting on April 6, 2021, and we recognize that some community members feel disrespected by the remarks made during that meeting,” she said. “We also acknowledge that silenced viewpoints threaten our democracy and our vision for a welcoming and diverse community that includes everyone.”

She also encouraged community members to tone down aggressive responses to Archer’s comments, pointing to efforts to intimidate the Park Board member.

“We call on the entire community to be united in our commitment to public discourse that does not seek to harm another purposefully,” she said.

Council member Shaun Palmer said at the end of the council meeting that he supports the call for civil discussion, but said he'd like Archer to rethink her stance as Park Board president.

"She's really made it complicated for the Park Board to do it's mission," he said.

Council member Mark Bransford said he agreed with Palmer's comments.

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Some views shared on social media, as well as during the council meetings, appear to make assumptions not supported by Archer’s comments.

Rochester resident Diana Friemann said she believes Archer, along with Mayor Kim Norton, endorsed not flying the flag.

“For that, and for that alone, they should be relieved of their duties,” she said, apparently tying Norton to Archer’s comments because the mayor commended the Park Board at the end of the April meeting.

Norton sought to clarify the discussion, noting that the law enforcement memorial was approved by the entire board.

“There was no call for removal of the flag, or discussion or debate about this,” she said. “It seems this has been broadly misunderstood based on calls and emails I’ve received, and I think other members of the City Council have, as well.”

She pointed out that no statements of disrespect for veterans or police officers were made.

“Ms. Archer made a statement, near the close of the meeting, of what she thought some others might feel upon viewing the flag in the park, based on what she had witnessed in another community,” she said.

Norton said it’s important for volunteer board members to seek to consider the feelings of all community members in their decisions.

She said American values, such as free speech, are represented by the flag and should be respected in the community.

“Removing Ms. Archer from the Park Board, as some have suggested, is counter to that value,” she said. “I do hope that she and all of our board members will continue to serve, to share their viewpoints, and listen to the broad view of others.”

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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