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George Flagg Parkway to be renamed? Domestic violence soars. Register costs $3.49.

5/4/2022

A petition to rename George Flagg Parkway was posted on March 30 as a joint effort by the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement (DSM BLM) and Des Moines Peoples’ Town Hall.

George Flagg, who died in 2006, served as an at-large Des Moines City Councilmember for 22 years. In a closed meeting in 2001, the City Council unanimously approved to rename Valley Drive to George Flagg Parkway. They surprised Flagg with news of the name change to honor his retirement in 2002.

Now, 20 years later, the name change is meeting opposition. In an emailed statement to CITYVIEW on April 4, petition organizers stated: “[Flagg’s] tenure on [the] council was riddled with the well-known fact that he was xenophobic.”

Xenophobia, for those of you without your dictionary handy, is a fear of strangers or foreigners.

Flagg’s actions included voting to deny licenses to alcohol retailers with ethnic-sounding names. An Oct. 15, 2001, article in The Des Moines Register stated that, according to City records of liquor licenses approved since 1998, Flagg abstained or voted against 137 of the 1,461 applicants. The story also stated, “Eighty-nine percent of his objections were aimed at licenses issued to businesses owned or operated by people with Asian, Indian, Bosnian or Hispanic names.”

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Flagg’s eldest son — Jeffrey Flagg — defended his father’s liquor policy in an April 17 opinion piece published in The Des Moines Register, stating, “It was in protest for the failure of city staff and attorneys to directly address his questions and concerns.”

George Flagg had voiced those concerns in that October 2001 Register article, where he is quoted as saying, “If you study carefully, you will find that any number of immigrants have been responsible for murders in our country and in our city.” He later added: “Nobody seemed to give a damn. So I thought the best I could do under the circumstances was to vote against what I thought were illegal enterprises.”

According to Jeffrey Flagg, his father had voted with the majority of the Council regarding liquor licenses during his first 18 years in office. He began opposing applicants after growing frustrated with city lawyers.
Former Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels, who was in office during the latter part of Flagg’s tenure, said he hoped the allegations of racism were not true.

Flagg was Daniels’ mentor and encouraged him to enter politics, Jeffrey Flagg wrote. Daniels became the first Black mayor of Des Moines in 1997.
While Daniels was aware of the name change petition, when asked by CITYVIEW about Flagg’s denial of liquor licenses to ethnic applicants, he said he had “no real recollections on that.
“And currently, I am too old to have any thoughts on that,” Daniels said.

Although the events in question occurred two decades ago, DSM BLM stated that now is the time to consider a name change. The City recently announced plans to raise and realign George Flagg Parkway, following an infrastructure study highlighting its current position in a flood plain. WHO 13 reported the project won’t break ground anytime soon, with completion estimated around the year 2030.

After calls to change the street’s name first surfaced in early March, Flagg’s three sons sent an email to members of the City Council. They mentioned high points of Flagg’s tenure, including recognition of his community service by the League of United Latin American Citizens, support of community churches and charities with “minority community participation,” and financial support of a Salvadoran family seeking asylum in Des Moines. (The Salvadoran family recently emailed City Councilmembers in support of retaining the name “George Flagg Parkway.”)

The email from Flagg’s sons was sent to all Des Moines City Councilmembers except for Indira Sheumaker, the Council’s only Black member. Sheumaker, who is currently involved with DSM BLM and the People’s Town Hall, said she is open to the community’s concerns.

“I think there’s an argument to be made for removing the name,” she said. “I think it can be healing and powerful for communities to remove monuments to people who have caused harm.”

As the realignment project progresses, DSM BLM and the Des Moines Peoples’ Town Hall are calling for the City to seek public input on an alternative name, this time with transparency and accessibility.

“The wrongdoing caused by Flagg can never be undone, but the City has a responsibility to engage with the immigrant community in this process,” DSM BLM stated. “Des Moines must hold accountability over the racist history within our communities.”

Sheumaker said some Des Moines residents prefer the name be changed back to Valley Drive, while others suggest the name reflect the communities affected by Flagg. A timeline for the name change process has not been set.

CITYVIEW readers may wonder who decides on street names? According to City policy, “The Des Moines City Council retains the exclusive right to name and rename City streets.” Proposals may be considered through council- or public-initiated requests — such as petitions. After this, the proposal must undergo staff verification and review, City boards/commissions evaluation and Council review, then public participation. After approval, signs are replaced or installed.

While there is a long road to an official decision, Sheumaker said the current discussion is necessary.
“It’s clearly a big conversation that’s happening in the community right now, so the council should at least discuss it — look into the background of the whole entire situation, and see if we feel this is someone that we want to have a monument to in our city,” she said.

As of press deadline, the petition had 472 signatures. …

It wasn’t too many years ago when Des Moines Register copies were stacked up in convenience and grocery stores and would sell out quickly. Those stacks appear to be much smaller now, and price increases may be part of the problem. The retail price per issue for the Register at Casey’s as of mid-April was $3.49 daily and $4.49 Sunday. …

Twenty people lost their lives as a result of domestic violence in Iowa in 2021, the highest number of domestic violence-related deaths in the state in a decade. Three deaths have already occurred in the first three months of 2022. In all, 14 women, four men and two bystanders were killed as a result of domestic violence in 2021, according to the most recent Domestic Violence Fatality Chronicle, which is issued twice a year by the Iowa Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division. According to the report, since 1995, 365 women, men and bystanders, including minors, have been killed as a result of domestic violence in Iowa. …

Construction season has begun in Des Moines. The City of Des Moines awarded 46 construction contracts for public improvements in the first nine months of this fiscal year, totaling about $85 million. Included in these contracts are bridge improvements, street improvements and stormwater management upgrades.

“We know this construction affects all users of these corridors,” City Engineer Steve Naber said. “When we went through our budget process in recent years, our residents expressed a huge desire to improve our streets for all users, so we are very proud of this ambitious plan to make those improvements a reality.”

In the past month, residents of Des Moines have seen the beginning of projects including the Second Avenue Bridge Project, the S.W. Ninth Street Bridge Project, the Fleur Drive Phase 2 Project, and the Ingersoll Avenue Streetscape Project. ♦

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