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Veterans banners to come down - maybe for good
The Santa Fe New Mexican - 11/14/2023
Nov. 14—It may be time to play Taps for a banner program aimed at honoring those who have served in the military.
That's because when the banners come down from light poles around Santa Fe later this month, they may not go back up in the spring as originally planned.
The head of a local American Legion post wrote in an email Tuesday the organization is no longer sponsoring the Hometown Heroes program, in part because of concerns over funding.
In an email to The New Mexican, American Legion Post 12 Commander Carmela Quintana wrote the post "isn't sponsoring anymore since we now have to come up with the dollars" to keep the effort going.
In emails to other veterans' families Quintana wrote the program is ending, adding the banners are scheduled to come down starting early next week.
Debbie Sparks, whose father, three brothers and son have banners in their honor, said she was crushed by the news, calling it "heartbreaking, very disappointing."
"Why the capital city in New Mexico can't figure out a way to make this program work is beyond me," she added.
However, a flicker of hope remained: a spokeswoman said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — who interceded in 2022 to keep the banners flying —remained interested in the program.
"The governor and her office believe this is an incredibly meaningful program for families and a worthwhile effort to honor the service of New Mexicans," spokeswoman Maddy Hayden wrote in an email. "We will work with all involved parties to make sure the program continues."
Normally, the banners go up before Memorial Day in May and come down after Veterans Day in November.
Confusion over who is funding the program and whether the city's light poles are sturdy enough to support the banners, have created continual delays, bumps and hiccups in the past several years. The standards, which feature photos of veterans who've served in the military as far back as the 1940s, pay tribute to their service and fly through the summer and fall.
Though city councilors originally approved funding the installation of the banners in 2019, they voted in 2022 to move the financial and installation responsibility to Post 12.
Mayor Alan Webber said later that year the city could no longer provide such services to such groups because it could conflict with the state anti-donation clause, which prohibits governmental agencies from providing public funding to a private enterprise except to provide infrastructure or facilities to support new or expanding businesses.
Citing a May 2023 resolution approved by the City Council that reiterates the American Legion is in charge of the banner program, city spokeswoman Amy Akmal wrote in an email "the city is no longer responsible for the banners. American Legion 12 has taken over the banners."
In a follow-up email, she wrote city officials do not want to see the program end and will work with the Governor's Office and others entities to see what can be done "to honor our veterans."
A variety of problems have plagued the program in recent years. At one point, officials worried whether light poles festooned with more than one banner could create safety issues, delaying the installation.
Lujan Grisham in 2022 said the state would take some responsibility for keeping the program flying that year, and her office initiated a project to hang about 130 banners along Guadalupe Street leading toward the Santa Fe National Cemetery and along St. Francis Drive.
Many cities around the country have similar Hometown Heroes banner programs that request donations to pay for the creation and installation of the banners, which feature an image of the veteran's face, rank, branch and years of service.
In Santa Fe, people wanting to sponsor a banner for a family member or loved pay $156 for the materials, but the cost of installing the hundreds of banners on several streets in the city has been left to the Legion post.
In the past, that cost has been estimated as being in the $100,000 range.
The Public Service Company of New Mexico offered to use its workers to put the banners up in the spring of 2022.
Sparks said she doesn't understand why the program can work well in other communities, but struggles here.
"Other cities do it," she said. "If Rio Rancho can do it, why can't we? It seems we are so busy trying to find ways not to do it rather than looking for ways to make it work."
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