Nearly 100 often raucous protesters jammed into St. Louis Park's City Council chambers on Monday night to urge the city to keep saying the Pledge of Allegiance before its meetings.
Angered that the city had voted to nix the pledge, protesters recited it several times and waved American flags as they confronted the council and called on them to resign.
No vote was taken, but two proposals were introduced to either reverse the decision or continue the discussion with involvement from the community. The City Council voted 5-0 on June 17 to do away with the pledge at most meetings, due to concerns that some residents in the "increasingly diverse community" may find it unwelcoming.
On Monday night, Tammy Hopps of Brooklyn Park passed out small American flags, saying they're what gives Americans the freedoms they have.
"Yes, we need to have conversations about inclusion, diversity. Absolutely," she said. "But we need to do it under this symbol."
Last month's vote prompted a backlash at the local and national level, and hundreds of people called or e-mailed the city to protest. Mayor Jake Spano announced on Twitter later that week that the council would be revisiting its decision.
Spano began Monday night's meeting by telling the crowd that neither cheering nor screaming was allowed but that did not seem to be a deterrent. Many people shouted during the meeting, and some had to be told to be quiet.
Spano said that the council missed a step when the pledge was put onto a council agenda for a vote, rather than on a study session agenda for in-depth discussion.
He also said that the city's diverse constituents were largely fine with the pledge.
"I think it's mainly planted or maybe cultivated in some people's minds, the idea that somehow, people who are new to America don't appreciate these things," he said, saying he's talked to many citizens since the vote.
Spano proposed that the council reverse its decision, and Council Member Anne Mavity introduced a proposal for the St. Louis Park community and city staff meet to discuss what to do next, instead of immediately reinstating the pledge.
"We have an opportunity and the responsibility to use this moment to start a conversation in St. Louis Park, on what it means for our residents in our community to be patriotic, and to live out our community values and principles," said Mavity, who was booed as she spoke.
Tensions flared after Spano said the council may have "missed the mark" by taking the vote, rather than studying it first. Spano and Council Member Thom Miller were absent for that meeting; Mavity sponsored the measure, which was initially scheduled to take effect July 15.
Mavity said the mayor should have noted the presence of the pledge issue on the agenda in late May — even if he was not at that meeting. "The protocols were followed. I know you missed several meetings that month," she said.
Spano acknowledged missing the meeting and others. "I've been out of town. I missed the boat, because I was with my wife and my son, at one of his activities out of state. And I won't apologize for that," Spano said.
Monday night's meeting was actually a study session, and public comment and a vote were never meant to be taken. But many felt that the gravity of the controversy should have warranted an exception.
Jennifer Carnahan, who chairs the state Republican Party, said her request to comment before the meeting was denied. She recently moved to St. Louis Park.
"So to not allow a few individuals to speak, even if it's just for 30 seconds or 60 seconds, kind of boggles my mind," she said.
Each council member spoke about the breadth of responses they received. Several apologized to city staff for having to deal with the volume of feedback.
The pledge is not said at council meetings in Minneapolis and Edina, but a spot check of other metro and outstate cities found that many of them do, including Duluth, Moorhead, St. Cloud and St. Paul.
Spano and Mavity's proposals will be discussed at a future study session. Officials did not indicate when a final decision would be reached.
Zoë Jackson • 612-673-7112