City: Stars and Stripes is a sign

Published: Mar. 6, 2012 at 8:58 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2012 at 10:39 PM EST
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An Albany businessman says he should be able to put an American flag wherever he wants. The city of Albany feels differently. Albany Code Enforcement found Tom Gieryic in violation of two city codes because the American flag in front of his business is on the city's right of way.

City officials say the flag violates the sign ordinance and is an encroachment on the city's right of way. Tom Gieryic views it as a symbol of freedom and he plans to keep it flying.

For Tom Gieryic, the flag in front of his repair shop is a reminder of his father's service, in the army as an ordnance instructor. "That flag represents my dad to me that's no longer with us, it represents our freedom, everything good about our county," Gieryic said.

Now he feels his city has let him down. A group of retired Marines retired his old flag and placed a new one on the pole Friday, when four hours later, code enforcement showed up concerning a 311 complaint about a small sign in the front of his business.

It wasn't his and was taken down, then Officer Ruth Lewis raised issues with the flag. "She told me my American flag was a non-conforming or illegal flag, placed on the city's right of way."

Code enforcement director Mike Tilson informed Gieryic he's in violation of two ordinances, the sign ordinance and encroachment on a right of way. "Number one, I don't consider the American Flag a sign, I consider it a symbol. Number two, I think I should have the right as a U.S. citizen to be able to fly the American flag anywhere on U.S. soil as long as it's not a safety hazard."

The city's worried that's exactly what it is, a safety hazard. "There's the potential of sight line problems and safety problems and that sort of thing, so I hope we can find a good balance because obviously we all support the American flag," said Albany Assistant City Manager Wes Smith.

Is a flag a sign? "Technically it is, and that's why I use the term unintended consequences, that I don't know that we thought through that particular issue," Smith said.

Tom Gieryic says the flag has been there for 30 years and no one's ever questioned it. We found a Google map from September of 2009 that shows the flag in the same spot.

"I think my flag beautifies this corner," Gieryic said. Which is why he intends to keep it flying, day and now night.

The city says he can put the flag up anywhere on his property, but Gieryic says there's no other good place to put it. The city has scheduled a meeting Thursday at 2:00 to discuss concerns with the sign ordinance.

Tom Gieryic plans to be there. The city changed Gieryic's citation to a warning. They say he can keep the flag there until the issue is resolved.