This sign in the Village Green Shopping Center off Dawson Road, not an American Flag, was the object of a complaint recently filed against Tom Gieryic, the owner of Gieryic’s Dawson Road Automotive Repair.
ALBANY — Documents obtained by The Albany Herald Thursday show that the complaint that sparked a firestorm of controversy after a warning was given to a local businessowner who had put an American flag in a city right-of-way, was called in to report a dilapidated sign nearby.
Tom Gieryic, the owner of Gieryic’s Dawson Road Automotive Repair, was originally given a citation March 2 by an Albany Code Enforcement officer after she found Gieryic had placed an American Flag in the city-owned right-of-way in front of his business in violation of state encroachment laws.
The citation was later reduced to a warning.
City officials responded Thursday to a request made under Georgia’s Open Record’s Act for the complaint that led to the warning.
Those documents show that the complainant reported an “illegal portable sign” at 2401 Dawson Road — which is the Village Green Shopping Center, a parcel and address that includes Gieryic’s Service Station.
The complainant also snapped a photo of the sign in question to accompany the complaint in the city’s 3-1-1 system — a sign that looks nothing like Old Glory.
Instead the sign is one that is large, white and blighted; missing letters while harkening people to Saturday’s Mardis Gras festival.
But because the photo didn’t accompany the case information sent to Code Enforcement Officer Ruth Lewis when she was dispatched to the scene, she arrived at the scene and immediately saw the flag in the right-of-way and thought it was what prompted the call, city officials say.
Gieryic, who told the Albany Planning Commission that he’s received “hundreds of phone calls” since a story about the incident ran in Tuesday’s Albany Herald, said he thinks of the American Flag as a symbol and not a sign that is governed by the ordinance.
“I think of it as a symbol of our nation, not as some sign that is regulated, and if it’s not a sign then it can’t fit into the sign ordinance,” Gieryic told the commission.
As discussion by the commission continued on the matter, City Attorney Nathan Davis said Gieryic’s issue is less about the sign ordinance and more about state encroachment laws on city-owned property.
“It’s an issue of encroachment,” Davis said. “It’s not that people can’t have a flag. It’s that people can’t have a flag, or anything else, in the city right-of-way.”
O.C.G.A 32-6-51 states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to erect, place, or maintain in a place or position visible from any public road any unauthorized sign, signal, device, or other structure which ... Because of its nature, construction, or operation, constitutes a dangerous distraction to or interferes with the vision of drivers of motor vehicles.”
There is no special provision for flags in the Georgia code.
Davis said the commission could regulate the number of flagpoles a business owner could erect but couldn’t go so far as to say which or what type of flags could be flown.
Lisa Cox, an Albany resident who said she didn’t know Gieryic but who felt passionately about his situation, told the Planning Commission that, contrary to Davis’ position, the flag should be exempt from any regulations.
“If there is going to be any kind of amendment or privilege, it should be for the flag,” Cox said. “It encompasses us all and represents us all.”