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SALT LAKE CITY — Public comment on Utah's state flags wraps up Wednesday but it's clear some ideas among the 20 state flag semifinalists have risen to the top while others are all but eliminated.
So what do Utahns want to see in a new flag?
A reflection of the state's mountains, something that represents southern Utah, a beehive and either an eight-pointed star or eight stars.
Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, a member of the Utah State Flag Task Force, said those should be in any finalist designs, based on the recurrent feedback. He proposed a motion Tuesday to ask a design review committee to come up with final designs that put those symbols and elements together. Members of the committee agreed.
"I would love to take (revisions) to the design committee and say give us your best of that, and then we will select from that really what we think the flag is going to be," he told members of a design review committee, during the meeting.
Jill Love, executive director at the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement and a member of the task force, said it's unlikely there will be a special legislative session held in November, where the flag vote was expected to take place.
The final vote may happen in January, instead, meaning there is more time to come up with a final design.
The leading flag ideas
McCay's motion came from piecing the feedback from the public, Legislature, tribal leaders and members of flag committees. The task force reviewed the results from over 34,000 comments regarding proposed flag designs. The total number could surpass 35,000 in the end, said David Wicai, director of strategic initiatives at the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement.
"We are extremely pleased with the public response," he said, noting that almost every single ZIP code in Utah is represented in the feedback. "It seems that Utahns are pretty invested in selecting our next state flag and providing their feedback on what will work and what will represent Utah best."
The early public comment feedback showed that designs featuring mountains, with blue and either red or orange backgrounds are the favorite designs among the people.
The top two also include beehives. In fact, beehive designs, paying homage to the state's official nickname, are featured in five of the six highest-rated designs. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who also serves as the head of the task force, said he's not surprised that beehive designs are popular. It's an element he's heard often at town hall meetings.
"I know it's not important to everyone — and I know we're not going to please everyone — but I think there's a reason why the highest scores involve the beehive," he said.
Eight of the 10 leading designs also include either an eight-pointed star or eight stars, representing the eight tribal nations in the state.
One thing Utahns don't seem to want on the flag is a cross pattern. Only one of three semifinalist designs with a "Crossroads of the West" theme landed within the top 10 at 10th overall. A design that many likened to the Marshall Islands flag landed at the bottom of the public's ranking.
There are different results for legislative members, tribal leaders and flag committees, who voted on the same scale, even though most of the same designs ended up at the top of the list. For example, the Utah Legislature's top two flag designs are the same as the public's, but in reverse order, and beehives are featured in the Legislature's top five picks.
Tribal leaders preferred designs that feature eight stars in the design. The top design features eight stars surrounding a beehive, followed by a design where the eight stars hover over a beehive. Interestingly enough, their third pick is the Utah Legislature's top pick and the public's second overall pick.
The committees sided with the tribal leaders' top pick followed by the public's top pick. They sided more with the public's top pick over the Legislature's leading pick, though.
Tweaking the designs
All of the 20 semifinalist designs were revealed last month after 5,703 flag designs were submitted this year. That said, it's all but certain that none of the actual designs that Utahns have seen so far will fly over the state.
That's because even the public's highest-rated design came with critiques, such as the color of the orange and the shape of the beehive, said Lindsey Ferrari, a consultant with Utah's More Than a Flag initiative.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said many of the blue and orange pairings on the flag look too similar to the Denver Broncos colors, which is why he believes the orange should be more red. Cox added that people who met in southern Utah seemed to gravitate to red more than orange because the natural features of the region are referred to as red rocks, not orange, even if they appear closer to orange.
There's a lot of moving parts and so many people involved and today feels — to me — like we're getting there. Not getting there in the 'if you want to ruin something, have a committee design it' but we're really getting better than what we had.
–Utah Gov. Spencer Cox
Designs that feature a star below a beehive were another big complaint. One reason is that stars are naturally above people or natural landscapes; others saw it as a slight.
"There are a lot of folks who felt like that if the star is representing the tribes, that it doesn't feel good to them to have the star underneath the beehive," Ferrari said, later adding people liked "equally-weighted" eight-point stars.
As for some of the designs that fell to the bottom, Ferrari and Wicai explained people were concerned that one design featuring Delicate Arch didn't represent the northern half of Utah enough, while a design featuring a sego lily is already represented in the Salt Lake City flag.
Putting together the final field
A design review subcommittee will begin taking this feedback and refining the leading designs on Friday, seeking some of the best designs that incorporate the ideas and themes within McCay's motion.
Designers have already started making some refinements. McCay revealed an early adjustment of one of the leading designs, which Cox called his favorite, so far. The design flattens the red rock while boosting the white mountains and beehive designs.
Anderegg said it's good, but he'd prefer to see an eight-pointed star in the design turned into eight stars in the blue sky above the mountain. But Cox said that design exists and it's "complicated and messy."
McCay then offered a completely different design than anything from the field of 20. It's a beehive in the shape of a Delicate Arch on a golden slope with an eight-pointed star above it, as a way to mix some of the semifinalist designs.
These are the types of discussions that will begin in more earnest. Once the committee completes these types of tweaks, they will push forward four or five designs for the task force to vote on later this year.
The task force will now have a few additional weeks to weigh the final designs before an official vote that is now likely to happen in January.
Cox reiterated that Utah's current flag, which features the state seal, will remain in the public eye as the governor's flag if it's replaced. The governor said this process isn't an effort to end the seal, the current flag, or the "history and heritage" of either.
He also ended the meeting more optimistic about what a future state flag can look like as a symbol representing Utah to the world.
"There's a lot of moving parts and so many people involved and today feels — to me — like we're getting there," he said. "Not getting there in the 'if you want to ruin something, have a committee design it' but we're really getting better than what we had."