Veteran wins battle, right to fly flag

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
By Christopher Sherman 
Posted April  22, 2004 

Homeowners in a subdivision of tile-roofed homes on the banks of Lake Tohopekaliga south of Kissimmee will have Dennis Meek to thank when they run American flags up poles in front of their homes.

After a couple months of frustrated back-and-forth letter writing, it only took a few minutes Wednesday for Meek, a Vietnam veteran, to persuade executives from the developer of his Bellalago community to change its homeowners manual to allow flagpoles in front yards.

"I'm extremely happy with the outcome," said Meek, 56. "They knew I wasn't going to back down. I love the American flag. I love America. I just have to have it."

Meek contended all along that a new state statute protected his right to put up a flagpole even in a deed-restricted community. Dennis Getman, executive vice president and general counsel of Avatar Holdings, drove from Miami to see Meek's flagpole for himself. Meek pulled it from the ground, explained it could be shortened to 16 feet and said the flag was 3 feet by 5 feet.

That was enough for Getman.

"I will recommend it to our architecture-review committee," Getman said. "I appointed all of them, so I think it should be safe."

Meek seized the moment to also ask permission to fly a prisoner-of-war flag on federally recognized holidays, which Getman also agreed to recommend.

"I'm sorry we couldn't settle this at a lower level," Meek said before he and his wife, Teresita, invited Getman to a homemade meal.

After being told in February that his flag display violated homeowners association rules, Meek took it down and quickly became an expert on a state law passed in 2002 that says homeowners can display "one portable, removable United States flag."

A former Marine in Jupiter battled for years to keep his flagpole, even facing foreclosure on his home. It was George Andres' case that attracted Gov. Jeb Bush's attention in 2002 when he signed the new law and then presented a flag that flew over the state Capitol to Andres on Flag Day.

"It's pretty cut and dried," Meek said. After he sent his last letter to the property manager, he decided he would wait until May for a reply, then head to the courthouse to file papers. But the reply came in a phone call Monday that asked him to put his flagpole back up so those with the power to change things at Avatar could take a look. 

Meek's phone has been ringing a lot lately. Bush's office called recently to get the basics and to ask Meek to provide an update after he met with the Avatar executives.

The homeowners manual required a homeowner to get written approval from the architecture-review committee for any flag display that is not an American flag up to 2 feet by 4 feet on a 3-foot pole attached at a 45-degree angle from the house. Getman had prepared that manual in 2001 before the new law went into effect, so it will be changed to reflect the statute, he said.

Meek's flagpole could become the community's standard.

"There's no need for future applications if it's consistent with this," Getman said.

A homeowner and Marine veteran won a similar battle against The Villages in Lake County in 1996 after management issued notices to residents with flags flying in front of their villas. After complaints, management backed down and changed its rules.

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