Byko: Veteran in trouble for raising U.S. Flags

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Flag Man Tony Clark removes a dirty, twisted American flag from atop the Lonnie Young Recreation Center on Chelten Avenue. STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF

REMEMBER Tony Clark, the Flag Man, who went around on his own time, and at his own expense put up American flags at parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers required to display Old Glory?

I wrote about him last month, and the city, instead of giving him a commendation for good citizenship, gave him an order to show up for a hearing into allegations he used "city equipment for personal gain." That's according to the summons he got in the mail from Oneather Kent-Fulton of the Water Department's Employee and Labor Relations Unit.

He was ordered to show up for the hearing last Friday, but he's been on medical leave since having heart-valve repair on April 21. Someone should have known that.

A Water Department construction inspector, Clark let them know. The hearing, which is supposed to determine whether a recommendation for discipline will be approved, will be rescheduled.

The complaint followed my April 22 column, in which I wrote about his practice of replacing either missing or damaged U.S. flags flying over city property.

He pays for the flags himself, and hoists them on his break time, such as lunch, the column said.

It also said he had the cooperation of some city employees, who could make a bucket truck appear for a good cause.

I acknowledged that getting the bucket truck when occasionally needed "is done mostly under the radar, with the people in charge going blind for the hour it may take to get a flag replaced."

None of those vision-impaired people got called on the carpet, nor should they be. No one involved in this caper was running household errands or a business on the side. They conspired to place American flags where they were supposed to be.

The idea of "personal gain" for Clark is laughable. He has spent upward of $20,000 (I underestimated his expenditures in the first column) for flags since he started doing this in 2003.

"My 'personal gain' was, people would come up to me and say thank you," says Clark, 68.

A Navy veteran, Clark takes our flag seriously, and the code that says it must fly over public buildings, including parks and rec centers. I was with him last month when he replaced the twisted, mangled flag at the Lonnie Young Recreation Center in Germantown.

For his selfless gesture, he is accused of being a crook and may be disciplined.

Curiously, a man with the same name - Anthony Clark - is the chairman of the city commissioners who rarely shows up for work. Is he in trouble? Nope.

Tony Clark the patriot is.

Philadelphia is awash in corruption, indifference, and waste. Launching an investigation into a veteran putting up flags is bewildering and shameful.

I wanted to know who accused Clark and what the evidence is. My column said he did it on his own time and his own dime. Who is accusing Clark of enriching himself?

I asked Kent-Fulton for comment and she said she'd have a PR person reach me.

That didn't happen.

So I called Clark, who's back in the hospital with an infection, and asked how he felt about the accusation.

"I am very upset and annoyed that the powers that be would even consider charging me with anything rather than using their brains and asking people what is going on," he says.

He says he would "like to see the city do its job and put flagpoles back up" where they are missing and keep fresh flags on all the poles.

That's a nice wish. In the meantime, will Philadelphia be so box-of-rocks dumb as to actually punish a veteran for flying American flags he bought himself?

stubyko@phillynews.com

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky