Top to bottom; designs by Hugh Butterfield, Douglas Sligting and C. Dario Grangroth

It's harder to pick a new city flag than Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson figured.

On Thursday Anderson's administration expected the City Council would choose a new city flag for Utah's capital city from three final designs, which were whittled down from more than 50 entries.

But when the council saw the three finalists, there was a significant lack of excitement.

"I don't mean to be disrespectful to the work that's gone on, but I would like something that says 'Salt Lake City,' " City Council Chairman Dale Lambert said. "I think you should go back to the drawing board and try again."

Other council members had similar sentiments at Thursday's council meeting.

"Obviously none of us are crazy about any of the three designs," Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said.

A seven-member mayoral committee hand-picked the three finalists from designs submitted by 39 graphic artists from as far away as Spain. But the council didn't think any of the finalists had symbolic visuals that could be associated with Salt Lake City.

Anderson had hoped the city — founded by Mormon pioneers 150 years ago — would shed its current flag, which is a symbol of its pioneer heritage, for something a bit more inclusive.

The current flag includes seagulls, pioneers and a covered wagon — all symbols tied to the founding pioneers — in the middle of a white background.

Anderson has likened the mostly white flag to a bedsheet blowing the in wind that endears only the LDS faithful. Most council members concede the current flag is unattractive.

"It's almost all about one religious heritage here," Anderson said. "Here, when there is so much in terms of our heritage; it's more than just pioneers, it's more than just Native Americans. There's so much more."

Anderson and the committee that chose the final three even had one flag designer alter his flag to replace a seagull with an eagle.

"We thought the seagull might be symbolic of one religious tradition," Anderson said. "We wanted to get away from anything that looked like it was only about one religious tradition."

But some council members said the city shouldn't shy away from its roots.

"Tradition's OK with me. So even though we have a bad flag now that represents Salt Lake City, it's tradition," Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said.

Councilman Dave Buhler said the only place you could find an eagle in Salt Lake City was at the Tracy Aviary, but seagulls are everywhere.

Anderson's administration had wanted to market the new flag so residents could buy T-shirts and stickers with the design. Over time they figured people would come to associate the design with Salt Lake City.

Some council members, however, noted the city recently redesigned its city logo, which should serve as the city's marketing brand. They suggest the city's flag could look similar to the logo, which includes the Great Salt Lake, a cityscape and mountains.

However, Colonial Flag owner Paul Swenson told the council a flag should be very simple and much less complex than a logo.

Some council members wanted the public to choose from the flag designs. Others said a public vote would be a nightmare because flags were really art, and everyone has different taste when it comes to art.

"To me, (a public process) seems absurd," Love said.

Saxton said she was concerned with the city spending so much time and energy on a new flag when there are much more important issues city leaders need to address.

In the end the council decided to form a subcommittee that would work with the mayor's office to choose some different flag designs.

Anderson and his staffers left Thursday's meeting a bit exhausted.

"We're talking about a flag here," he told the council. "Some of you are asking way, way too much of a flag."

E-mail: [email protected]