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Date: January 10, 2008
Byline: Joel Burgess

City of Asheville to police display of flags

Businesses may face daily fines

Asheville — City businesses that want to fly the stars and stripes may want to brush up on flag-display rules, including lighting, handling and other restrictions.

That's because an ordinance passed Tuesday by the City Council says businesses must follow federal rules on how to properly display the banner as laid out in the U.S. flag code.

Businesses that violate the new rule by doing things such as flying the flag at night without lighting it or in the rain when it is not an all-weather flag may face fines of $100 a day.

The rule would not apply to residences, churches or other noncommercial uses.

A conflict last summer between city sign code enforcers and a TNT Fireworks business spurred the ordinance.

City officials and others said the rule would prevent people from using the flag as an advertising vehicle to make money.

"I can tell when someone is flying a flag just to draw business, when it has nothing to do with patriotism," said veteran Horace McDonald, a Desert Storm veteran and a member of the Mayor's Committee for Veterans Affairs that endorsed the rule.

This summer, a city official cited TNT Fireworks for flying flags over fireworks stands on Bleachery Boulevard and Patton Avenue. The flags violated the sign ordinance because they were being used as commercial displays, he said.

They were being displayed in the rain and at night without lighting. One had fallen, the code enforcer said.

The business manager, Charles Thomas, said the flags were displays of patriotism.

The business was fined $1,400 for seven days of violations at the two sites. The city later agreed to drop the fines and pay for half the costs of the company's appeal to the Board of Adjustment because the ordinances needed clarification, said Curt Euler, an assistant city attorney.

Councilman Carl Mumpower questioned whether the city should try to regulate such a touchy subject. Mumpower was the lone "no" vote against the ordinance. He said Asheville should not create new regulations as it struggles to enforce rules already in place.

"This requires additional staffing and distracts staff energies from real concerns like building code enforcement, stormwater runoff problems, traffic issues," Mumpower said via e-mail.

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