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Published: Wednesday, 5/20/2009

Couple win battle with condo board over flag near Canton


CANTON - A condo association has backed down from its attempt to compel a northeast Ohio couple to remove from their front window a flag that honors their son's Army service.

Gary Duvall, president of REM Commercial Association Management, which manages the Canton area condo's 22 units, said the condo's board will not seek penalties nor levy fines related to the flag against Richard and Marlene Gano. Their 55-year-old son is an Army master sergeant stationed at Fort Knox, Ky.

"I'm elated," Mrs. Gano said. "I'm glad to know that the Blue Star mothers [can] put their star in the window and not be concerned about being harassed."

Her husband, a 76-year-old Army veteran, was skeptical.

"They may say they're going to back down but sometime in the future it may come back up again."

Mrs. Gano said she put up the flag when her son served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and again in 2003 when her son was deployed in Iraq for a year. Families of servicemen display a red and white flag with a blue star for each loved one in the armed forces during wartime.

Mr. Duvall said after an article on the matter was posted on the Canton Repository's Web site Saturday, his Canton-based company received dozens of calls and e-mails objecting to the association's initial stance that the Blue Star Service Flag violated its rule on window displays. Some of the messages were death threats, he said.

"Unfortunately, it just got blown out of proportion," said Mr. Duvall, who emphasized that his company enforces but doesn't set the policy.

"The manager, she didn't realize what the emblem meant. It's basically everyone from calling us communists to 'is our company run by al-Qaeda?' [and] 'I hope you don't ever need protection from the Army.'•"

Mr. Duvall said one REM employee has four children in the military, and the company's chief executive's husband was an Army Ranger. He added that REM staffers will be donating their labor to build a veterans memorial in nearby Massillon. He explained that the window display rule is meant to maintain uniformity to preserve property values.

Mr. Duvall said it was highly unlikely that the Ganos' contention that they never received a copy of the condo association's rules is true, but he said the association's attorney had determined that the Blue Star Flag could be considered an American flag, and that courts have ruled flags are exempt from condo rules.

He said the board still expects the couple to remedy other condo rule violations.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Gano said she was interviewed by reporters from at least four television stations Sunday and Monday and a member of the veterans group Rolling Thunder visited her on his motorcycle.

Despite the reversal by the association, she said, "We will move."

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