Wednesday, May 30

Standing Ground: Towbin Hummer

Even the smallest local controversies have a hard time staying local in the world of new media.

Eleven days ago, Terresa Monroe-Hamilton, author of the NoisyRoom, posted her take on a dispute between Towbin Hummer and the Las Vegas City Council and, within hours, dozens of people from all over the country were calling to cancel reservations. (Unfortunately, no one told one boycotter that the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, like all Strip properties, resides outside city of Las Vegas jurisdiction.)

The controversy? Towbin Hummer raised a 30-by-60-foot American flag and it is just "too aesthetically unpleasing, too commercial, and too loud" for some folks' tastes. So, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the city council ordered it to be taken down.

Instead, Dan Towbin, owner of Towbin Hummer and an honorary commander at Nellis Air Force Base, made good on his promise to complete a veterans memorial around the base of the flag. He would have done it sooner, but he didn't want to build the memorial until the city's 6-month "flag review" was over. Had the council reversed its allowance after six months, the dealership would have been forced to rip down the memorial as well.

If it were another dealership, I might be inclined to think twice about their motivation. The Towbin family, however, has a long track record of supporting the community. Carolynn Towbin, the executive vice president of Towbin Automotive, insists on quarterly events to involve the community.

Most recently, Towbin Hummer held a fingerprint-a-thon, hosted by KLAAS KIDS, with more than 200 kids fingerprinted at the event. Events like these hardly seem the stuff of a "sale first" mentality. They could have just as easily had a tent sale.

Regardless, both sides are now embroiled in a name-calling war that questions which side is more un-American: the dealership for flying a flag or the city council for ordering it be taken down.

City spokesman Jace Radke told the Associated Press that a city council member could bring the issue up again at the next meeting on June 6.

What seems suspicious to me is that Towbin is not the only business in Las Vegas to fly an American flag. The Terrible Herbst gasoline and convenience store chain has flags, measuring 30 feet by 50 feet on poles 100 feet tall, at almost every station. No one, in any of those neighborhoods, seems to complain about them.

Regardless of how I feel about the issue, I have to give the Las Vegas City Council a few points for damage control. One story highlights how the city swayed one Las Vegas boycotter after he heard the city's side of the story. After the city e-mailed him back, he responded: "See you in September."

What's more uncertain is if such message management will protect city council members during the next election cycle. A future opponent's mail piece, highlighting how an incumbent voted to remove an American flag, might just gain some traction. It certainly has with Fox News, CNN, and other national news outlets.

Personally, I think the city would have been better off never giving approval for a flag that exceeded its 40-foot height restriction (in May 2006), contingent on complaints from neighbors. It would have been smarter to have required the business to poll residents prior to granting permission.

Why? Because now, no matter how well you spin it, a business flying an American flag hardly seems like commercial exploitation (lest we ban all businesses from flying them) whereas a city calling for an American flag to be taken down certainly seems like censorship.



Unknown on 5/30/07, 10:28 AM said...

Rich - hi, I don't know whether you meant to print it as NoseyRoom - but it's - :) Either way is okay by me... I lived in Vegas for 20 years so those are my old stomping grounds...

Unknown on 5/30/07, 10:29 AM said...

By the way - it says kenneth - but this is actually Terresa Monroe-Hamilton...

Rich on 5/30/07, 10:49 AM said...

Hi Terresa,

Purely unintentional, I assure you. I fixed it and hope you forgive me! I am fan and fellow Las Vegan after all. Besides, with some of your smart investigative pieces, NoseyRoom would be a compliment too. ;)

All my best,

Rich on 5/30/07, 11:25 AM said...

More words:

ABC Action News 13 reports thousands of American flag postcards were handed out with the return address to councilwoman Lois Tarkanian.

Dan Towbin says the council's decision is politically motivated. The council says it is not a question of patriotism, rather broken promises from Dan Towbin at last year's council meeting.

Rich on 8/2/07, 5:13 PM said...


"The Las Vegas City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to order the Towbin Hummer dealership to take down the super-sized Stars and Stripes, after officials said the 109-foot pole was too high and neighbors complained the flag flapped too loudly." — The Las Vegas Sun.


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