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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Pride Police
Courtesy of Travis Austin

Police call over Pride flag sparks outrage in Dane County township

Town of Berry Chairman Duane Haag called police to a peaceful Pride event. His actions sparked calls for a town code of conduct.

The chairman of the Town of Berry, a small community just northwest of Madison, phoned the police on a town supervisor during a Pride event at the town hall after previously opposing efforts to display the Pride flag during Pride month.

Town Supervisor Travis Austin hosted a Rural Pride Forum at the Berry town hall on June 30. State and local government officials were invited to discuss LGBTQ+ pride in rural Wisconsin, Austin told The Daily Cardinal. Food and drinks were provided, and Pride flags were stuck in the lawn of the town hall for the duration of the event.

Less than a half hour after the event began, Berry Town Chairman Duane Haag, who was not on scene at the time, phoned police. He claimed he received a phone call that someone was sticking flags in the town hall’s grass without permission, according to a recording of the call posted to YouTube by Austin earlier this month. According to records of the incident, law enforcement left soon after arriving at the town hall.

During a town board meeting on June 19, Austin proposed an ordinance to establish a protocol for which flags could fly outside the town hall. He also proposed a resolution to fly the Pride flag at the town hall from June 20-30.

Instead, the board voted in favor of a different draft of the ordinance, suggested by Haag after Austin’s version was proposed. This draft allowed for only the United States flag to fly outside the town hall. The town board voted in favor of Haag’s draft, with only Austin voting against.

Austin invited Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett to speak about the obligations of the sheriff’s department at the following town board meeting on July 17. 

“Know that our resources are very limited. We have large areas that we cover, so when we do respond to a call, we take it seriously,” Barrett said during his visit. “When we respond to a call, especially with two deputies, it takes resources away from someplace else.” 

Residents of the Town of Berry expressed their frustration at the police presence at the Pride event.

“People were visibly upset. Enforcement is scary to some people,” said Penni Klein, a Dane County resident at the board meeting. “They’re not used to it.”

Some residents accused Haag of exploiting his authority as town chairperson to inappropriately call for law enforcement. 

“You know that the police have to come whether it’s a non-emergency call or a 911 call. That’s a gross abuse of the system,” Susan Felson, a 47-year resident of the Town of Berry, said during the meeting. “These officers were not able at that time to respond to a true emergency — a fire, an accident, someone with a heart attack. They were here.” 

Austin also accused Haag of leveraging his position as town chairperson to summon law enforcement. Haag ran unopposed in April 2023 for chairperson after Austin unseated him as a town supervisor in 2022.

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“I just find this behavior unacceptable for the position of town chair,” Austin said. “In the recording, you invoke your authority as town chair to send the police here.”

Town Clerk Brenda Kahl said Haag was personally made aware of the event 11 days before it took place.

Additionally, Haag stated he used the non-emergency number to call. However, District 28 Dane County Board Supervisor Michele Doolan confirmed at the board meeting that 911 was used to phone the police. 

Haag did not respond to a request for comment.

Austin told Haag at the July 17 meeting that he should have known there were no ordinances banning those who rent the town hall space from planting flags in its lawn. 

“The rental policy that governs renting the town hall was in your immediate knowledge because you had just voted on a new draft of it,” he said.

“Sorry,” Haag responded.

A code of conduct for board members and a general code of ethics were both proposed at the board meeting. The Town of Berry does not have a code of ethics at this time.

“This is about bullying. This is about a public, voted and elected official being a bully,” Felson told the Daily Cardinal. “What he did in calling the police is out there. It’s a much bigger thing.”

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