Confederate flag belt buckles

An example of some of the Confederate flag-emblazoned items on sale by a vendor at the Athens County Fair in early August.

Members of the Agricultural Society of the Athens County Fair voted overwhelmingly on Saturday not to ban the sale of Confederate flag merchandise at the annual fair.

A total of 124 members of the Agricultural Society voted against the fair implementing a policy change that would have prohibited the sale (and display) of confederate flags and confederate flag merchandise, compared to just 33 members voting in favor of that policy.

All 200-plus members of the Agricultural Society – a group consisting of people who have bought a membership pass for the fair – were eligible to vote on this issue during the Athens County Fair’s annual elections on Saturday, Fair Board President Calvin Jarvis previously told The NEWS. However, it looks as if not all members showed up to vote (which isn't surprising).

The voted-down policy would have mandated that "any Contractor found selling any items featuring the image of the confederate flag will be asked to promptly remove them."

The issue came up in August after some local elected officials, including Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and the Athens County Commissioners, raised concerns about the sale of Confederate flag belt buckles and other memorabilia at the Athens County Fair in early August. The Commissioners requested that the Fair Board “immediately” cease sale of the merchandise.

The county Commissioners in their letter noted that the Ohio State Fair Board and the Warren County Fair both have banned the sale of Confederate flag-related “symbols and merchandise.” They also confirmed that they had received complaints from local citizens about the sale of the products at the fair. The Commissioners, however, do not have the authority to demand that the Fair Board to take action.

The Fair Board is set to have a regular meeting this Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. at the secretary’s office at the Athens County Fairgrounds, and those meetings are open to the public. Anybody can sign up to speak during the public comment part of the meeting.

Anytime The Athens NEWS posts an article on Facebook about this issue, the comment section fills up quickly with statements both pro and con. Some examples from our most recent post last week include:

• “We're a union state. Why would anyone born and raised here want a Confederate flag? It's stupid.”

• “I’m sure the sensitive folks in Athens can't handle free will. But, those items aren’t illegal, and people can choose either 2 buy them or not 2 buy them.”

• “I cannot get past the people talking about FREEDOM and AMERICA and rights to do whatever we want!! the reason to fly the flag of a group of people that stood for nothing but hate and slavery and a country that explicitly didn’t want to part of the U.S.”

• “Why would they even consider such a move; that merchandise is part of our heritage?”

Athens resident Marc Gagliano, owner of Athens Brick Properties LLC, commented on the Athens County Fair's Facebook post announcing the results of the election over the weekend.

"It will be impossible for families to feel safe at the fair after your membership’s recent decision to support racist merchandise sales there," Gagliano said. "My family will no longer support the fair, or any of the businesses of fair board members, who have failed to act in the best interests of your membership and will apparently still allow racist ideology to be perpetuated by the sale of racist merchandise. Sometimes leadership means doing the right thing despite it not being popular - to abdicate your responsibilities as leaders is, in itself, a failure."

Hilarie Burhans, who recently penned a letter asking the fair to ban the sale of Confederate flag merchandise, said Monday that she was "very disappointed, although not surprised" at the results of the vote.

"None of the reasons I have heard people give in favor of continuing to allow the sale of these items make sense to me," Burhans said. "For me it comes down to: if seeing a Confederate flag emblem emblazoned on a blanket makes someone feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and even downright afraid, why would a Fair Board who wrote to me to say that '...our focus is on providing our patrons with a safe and positive experience at our fair...' want to sell these items? Please do keep in mind that this is not limiting anyone’s free speech. People can still plaster confederate flag bumper stickers on their vehicles, wear confederate flag T-shirts to the fair, and so forth. It’s just a rule that says that the leadership at the fair wants to make everyone feel welcome."

We'll update this story as we hear more comments from those involved with the fair and the effort to ban the sale of the merchandise.

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