Controversy over giant US flag in NC takes turn with board vote

By MARK PRICE | The Charlotte Observer | Published: June 11, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Statesville’s planning board appears to be taking sides with the local business owner who insists his huge American flag should be allowed to stay up, despite violating city rules regarding flag sizes.

The board voted 5-0 Monday to recommend increasing the permitted size of flags to include the 40-foot-by-80-foot flag flown by Camping World/Gander RV along Interstate 77, according to WSOC and other news outlets.

Statesville Public Affairs Director Nancy Davis told The Charlotte Observer the proposed change is on the city council’s June 17 agenda for a required public hearing. Two votes are needed before it becomes law, she said.

The Planning Department debate Monday was not completely supportive of Camping World and its CEO Marcus Lemonis, including calls for him to face fines, the Statesville News & Landmark reported.

Lemonis — the star of CNBC’s reality television show “The Profit” — has defied ordinances since October by flying the giant flag, resulting in a $50-per-day retroactive fine and a lawsuit, according to a Facebook post by Camping World/Gander RV.

Planning board member Todd Lange told the board he thinks the town council should “still fine Gander RV for not following the flag ordinance,” according to the News & Landmark. “What I don’t like is the fact that a commercial business has basically thumbed their nose at our ordinance,” Lange told the news outlet.

The city’s lawsuit against Camping World/Gander RV remains active until the town council votes to drop it, officials told The Charlotte Observer.

Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh is the one who asked the Statesville Planning Department to draft a text amendment that would allow for the larger flag. The request was made in response to national criticism about the city pressuring Camping World to remove the flag, The Observer reported in May.

A Change.org campaign created in support of Lemonis and his flag has gotten more than 303,975 signatures, with a message that the issue “is about more than just the flag.”

“This is about our Veterans, Military, and the men and women that have sacrificed for this great country,” the petition says. “They are the reason we fly the flag and they are the reason we will NOT take it down!”

Kutteh acknowledged in a press release that the town had taken a publicity beating.

“Some terrible things have been said about our wonderful town, and it hasn’t come from our citizens,” Kutteh said in the release. “But people from all over the country have jumped on this issue and called us names I can’t repeat. When our community’s efforts to conduct business in an orderly, lawful manner begins to hurt our businesses, then it’s time to put a stop to it.”

Kutteh criticized Lemonis for defying the rule, rather than making a formal request to have the ordinance changed, according to the release.

Lemonis has not yet commented on the planning department’s Monday vote, but he said in a May 29 tweet that city officials were “missing the point.”

“The state code is clear as to no restriction of size unless it impairs the health, safety or wellness of the people,” he said in a tweet. “This isn’t about @CampingWorld or @GanderRV. Amend the code to remove the size restrictions for all businesses not just mine.”

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