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Flag etiquette question or racial objection?
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff

U.S. and Mexican flags fly at the 12 Oaks at Woodfield apartment complex in Rolling Meadows.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Mike Sparks, owner of 12 Oaks at Woodfield apartments in Rolling Meadows, says he is flying the flags properly.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Some area residents are upset that the U.S. and Mexican flags fly at the same height at 12 Oaks at Woodfield apartments in Rolling Meadows.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/9/2010 12:00 AM

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Outside the 12 Oaks at Woodfield apartments in Rolling Meadows, the U.S. and Mexican flags fly side by side -- the flags are the same size and fly at the same height on 30-foot poles.

The equal treatment of the flags has not gone unnoticed by critics, including the mayor of Rolling Meadows and some veterans, particularly one with the Warriors Watch Riders, who was part of an honor guard that was escorting a returning soldier home when he looked over and noticed the two flags.

"This is America," said Rick Williams, of Downers Grove. "They should only be flying one flag. I don't think they should fly the Mexican, Italian or Irish flag except maybe on their national holidays."

Rolling Meadows Mayor Ken Nelson says there's no question the U.S. flag should be higher, and he said residents have complained to city officials.

But Mike Sparks, the owner of the 12 Oaks complex and no stranger to controversy in Rolling Meadows, says he is flying both flags properly. In fact, his property has 24 flag poles -- each 30 feet tall -- on the 35 acres, half flying U.S. flags and half Mexican ones.

"It's part of our marketing program to the Mexican community," said Sparks. "Seventy percent of our residents are Mexican. Why not? They're good, hardworking people, and they pay their rent."

While Nelson and others think it is disrespectful to fly the U.S. and Mexican flags at the same height, the U.S. Flag Code seems ambiguous on this point.

Most people contacted for a ruling -- from veterans' groups to a congressman's office -- referred the Daily Herald to Web sites instead of experts.

One popular site suggested by the Chicago regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a report from the Congressional Research Center, posted by the U.S. Senate at

It says, "No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America ... No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to or in place of the flag of the United States."

However, a later section says: "When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height."

Michael Peck, a military veteran who is superintendent of the Lake County Veteran's Assistance Commission, interprets this as meaning a flag from another sovereign nation can fly at the same height as the U.S. flag.

Sparks, meanwhile, thinks a lot of the complaints are just anti-Mexican rhetoric.

"I used to have mostly all Polish employees, and I flew the Polish flag, and we didn't get any complaints about that," Sparks said.

Nelson strongly objects to that characterization.

"I have no objection to them flying the Mexican flag," said the mayor. "The objections we have heard is that the flags are not being shown properly. I have not heard anyone objecting to their flying the Mexican flag."

The U.S. flag code does not include enforcement clauses, said Nelson, so there's nothing the city can do. The congressional report confirms that no penalties can be assessed for improper flag display, saying " ... the Code functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups."

Communication between officials and Sparks is limited to begin with, because the landlord and some tenants have filed lawsuits against the city stemming from summer 2008, when police barricaded all but one entrance to the complex and began checking all people coming and going, and also from a dispute over taxes.

Sparks said he would change the way he flies the flags if he were proved to be incorrect. He says a Warriors Watch Riders member once walked into the apartment complex office and presented him with a medallion for flying the U.S. flag correctly- meaning, the code's provision that the U.S. flag should always be on the right.

Sparks does have a medallion, but Wayne Lutz, founder of Warriors Watch Riders, said in an e-mail the group does not give out awards for proper flag-flying, and while its members are passionate about respect for the U.S. flag, they are nonpartisan.

Rick Williams, meanwhile, said the first time he saw the flags at 12 Oaks he believed the Mexican flag was actually higher than the U.S. one. When he returned to the complex a few days later, however, the flags were at the same height.