Ocala, Florida — Keith Greenberg, the owner of Gear Barrel, recently relocated to Ocala, Florida from Chicago. He opened his business within the city limits in May of 2014.
He said he recently received a notice of violation from the City of Ocala regarding the iconic Gadsden flag he displayed outside his business. The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag. The flag is named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden; it was designed in 1775.
Greenberg said he was threatened with fines if he doesn’t remove the flag, which he refused to do at first; however, he has since moved the flag to the window of his shop because he said he cannot afford the fines.
Greenberg said the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization in Charlottesville, Virginia, is representing him.
According to Greenberg, the city originally told him the content of the flag was the issue, but when confronted by his attorney, the city denied the allegations. Instead, they stated that the flag is not considered an American flag and contributed to sign clutter and it violated the city ordinance.
Greenberg said he is not trying to make trouble, but he will not tolerate his rights being violated. He also said he moved to Florida from Chicago because his rights were being “stomped” on. He said he did not expect this in “freedom loving Florida.”
The public has been in an outrage, in favor of Greenberg, since he posted a video about the situation online.
Many citizens have contacted the City of Ocala, which prompted city leaders to release the following statement:
“City code provides for equal and equitable opportunities for business-related advertising. As it relates to signage at a commercial property, the code regulates the number, size, type, location, and composition of signage, regardless of content. Regulating content of signage is a gray area that the code does not specifically address.
Per section 110-3, “Definitions, ‘Flag’,” the code allows the display of the official flag of the United States and the official flag of the state of Florida on commercial property, as many as desired and for as long as desired, without a permit. Section 110-6(7) details the types of flags that are exempt from the permit.
Temporary signage, including outside pennants, banners, balloons, flags or streamers, may be erected in specified zones of the city pursuant to section 110-161, for purposes of advertising grand openings, special sales and other temporary events. The sign in question is allowed as temporary signage. Temporary signage is allowed through a permitting process. The cost of a temporary sign permit is $39.00 ($35.00 to the city, $4.00 to the state).
This particular business owner was in violation of section 110-131 for the number of signs erected at the business location. No fines were assessed. The business owner was advised on multiple occasions of how compliance could be achieved. The methods of compliance include purchasing a temporary sign permit, moving the sign to the interior of the business (no permit necessary), or removing the sign altogether. The business owner chose to remove the sign as the method of compliance.
In response to the other businesses flying flags that do not comply with the same ordinance, the City of Ocala Code Enforcement is working diligently to address these violations. The aforementioned business owner’s situation is not isolated. We currently have 33 other business owners who have also received notices of violation for the same reason. Some of these businesses have not yet complied with the notices of violation. If they continue noncompliance, they are subject to fines.”
The question has been raised about other businesses in the area flying Italian and Irish flags. The city claims they, too, are charged a permit fee. However, Ocala Post found three businesses, of which do not wish to be identified, flying the Irish flag within the city limits. Those businesses told Ocala Post they have never paid a permit fee.
Because of the media attention this situation has attracted, the city is now planning to amend the current ordinance.