ALBANY, Ga. -- The business owner at the center of a debate over where a person can put an American flag told Albany City Commissioners that he would like to see city ordinances and state laws changed to give a preference to the American flag.
Thomas Gieryic told commissioners Tuesday that he now knows that it's against state law to put a flag in a right-of-way, but he said he believes there should be an exception made for the American flag.
"The American flag is not an advertisement or a message or a sign," Gieryic said. "Under the U.S. Code, it's a living, breathing representation of this country."
Gieryic was cited by Code Enforcement officials after a complaint was made that an illegal sign was at the Village Green Shopping Center.
Gieryic's service station, which shares the same address as the shopping center, was cited for having a sign for Sherwood Baptist Church in the right-of-way, as well as an American flag.
Gieryic removed the Sherwood sign but refused to remove the flag. City officials later rescinded the citation and gave him a warning. And Gieryic moved his flag to a utility pole at the rear edge of the right-of-way, where the flag now stands.
"Countless lives have been lost defending it and for which it stands, so let us also protect it," Gieryic said.
Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict, told Gieryic that he shared Gieryic's sentiments about the flag but that he was in violation of state encroachment laws that prevent items from being placed on government property.
When Gieryic said that he plans to remove the current flag and erect a flagpole on his own property to fly the flag, Postell said that was a fair compromise.
But even this action is not likely to be the end of Gieryic's story. Gieryic says that under the current sign ordinance, flags can be flown but they count against the total square footage of signage that a business can display.
"I don't think it's right that I should have to choose between advertising my business and flying the American flag," Geiryic said. "So I'd like that looked at."
Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta, who is also a veteran, told Gieryic that he's been told by the city attorney that the city can't specifically regulate American flags because it then becomes a free speech issue, but that he applauded Gieryic's stand.
"Sometimes the only way to get things changed is to challenge the status quo, and you've done that," Marietta said.