From Argus Leader Staff Reports

But the flag that scored so low appears to have been an imposter, according to Rapid City's mayor.

Pierre placed 115th out of 150, and Rapid City was a dismal 148th. Both cities broke a few basic rules of good flag design, according to the North American Vexillological Association. The flags have words on them and have city seals in the center, both big no-nos.

But Rapid City Mayor Jim Shaw takes exception to the ranking.

"That's not our flag. I wonder where that came from?" he asked after looking at the flags at the group's Web site, www.nava.org. He said the flag the group used for its survey looked like something off of a business card.

To come up with the rankings, the 450-member flag association said it surveyed flags from the 100 largest cities in the U.S., all state capitals, and included at least two cities per state.

Sioux Falls has no city flag, which led to Rapid City being included in the survey and opened the door to its flag being shredded by the vexillologists.

"The irony is that Rapid City was the stand-in for Sioux Falls, and poor Rapid City came in with an F grade," said Ted Kaye of Portland, Ore., who conducted the survey and edits a scholarly journal on flags.

John Purcell, an association member who helped write a book on the flag designs, said the Rapid City flag in the survey is the one that someone from the city's offices e-mailed him.

"If that's not their flag, I did my best," he said.

Kaye said sometimes there is more than one version of a city flag, an official and unofficial flag. Other times flags change and the association is given a previous version, he said.

Mayor Shaw said the flag in his office is similar but more attractive than the flag being shown by the organization. It is white with gold trim, says Rapid City on the top and South Dakota on the bottom. In the middle, it has a star and Mount Rushmore.

"It's too bad that we didn't get that one," Purcell said.

The one used for the survey "fails on all the basic principles of flag design," Kaye said.

"Words do not belong on flags," he said. "Those of us who have studied it say there are no exceptions to that."

As a result of those rules, South Dakota's state flag has fared poorly with the group in the past, as well.

A letter or two may be used as a strong graphic element, such as the bold C in Colorado's state flag.

But Rapid City's flag - both the one in the survey and the other one in the mayor's office - contains these words: "Star of the West Rapid City, South Dakota."

"Let's imagine those words on the flag, a couple hundred feet away, flapping in the breeze," Kaye said. "Tell me, are you going to be able to read that?"

Besides, Kaye said, "When you have to write the name of the city on your flag, you're insecure of your symbolism."

Pierre's flag suffers from most of the same problems, according to the vexillologists.

"Where Rapid City scored probably an F, Pierre just got a D," Kaye said.

The seal on Pierre's flag came in for special criticism, partly because a picture on its flag "is phenomenal because it manages to show the wind blowing in two different directions at the same time," Kaye said.

Even if the wind over Pierre blew the same direction, putting a seal on a flag can only lead to trouble, Kaye said.

"When you look at a seal, that's designed to be put on a piece of paper, and it's flat on the table and it's not moving," he said. "A flag should be designed to be immediately recognizable at a distance on a piece of fabric that's moving."

But Pierre Mayor Dennis Eisnach isn't all that concerned about the flag survey results or the flag itself, which is on display in the commission room.

"It really hasn't been very high on my priority list. I'm not going to create any special project to change it," he said.

He isn't even sure how the group got a look at the city's flag, which he thinks was designed about 20 years ago by a local artist.

"I think it is one of a kind," he said. "How they ever knew what it was blows my mind."

Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson says he's not certain why the city has no flag, and he's not aware of any plans to design one.

Des Moines' city flag placed 14th in the survey for a distinctive design of bridges that "hits on all cylinders." First place went to Washington, D.C.

The worst? Pocatello, Idaho.

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