Flag flies after fight with Cherokee neighborhood association

The threat of more than $30,000 in accumulated homeowner association fines wasn't enough to get Ron Tripodo to take down the pole flying a U.S. flag in his Cherokee County front yard.

And now it looks like the flagpole can stay.

The BridgeMill Community Association had warned Tripodo in a series of letters after he built the 14-foot pole in 2007 that it violated neighborhood covenants, which control how properties can be changed. The association also charged that Tripodo had not gotten the pole approved by the neighborhood architecture committee.

"I was not going to take it down," Tripodo said -- even if he had lost the lawsuit the association eventually filed against him.

The $25 a day fine could have continued to accumulate, he said, and when he and his wife Patsy died the association could have collected by taking their house.

But a Cherokee County Superior Court judge ruled last week the association's enforcement was arbitrary and unreasonable, and that the 2005 Freedom to Display the American Flag Act passed by Congress allows the pole.

"[The association] said, ‘What if everyone wants to put up a flag pole?'" Tripodo said. "Hello? It's their right."

Richard Lee, a neighbor of Tripodo, was one of the first to exercise that right this week. He also got "nasty-grams" from the association after he erected a flagpole near his front porch several years ago, he said. He dropped his extendible pole in response because he was not ready for a court fight.

But, Lee said, one of the first things he did Tuesday was run the pole back to its full height with a new flag, a gift from Tripodo.

"I think it is a ridiculous waste of [neighborhood association] money to fight something that no one here believes in," he said.

Tripodo said he got about 900 signatures of support from the 2,700 property owners in the massive subdivision.

Russell Caso, the association president, said the board explained the suit at a meeting in January that drew about 200 members.

"Property owners were pretty much 100 percent behind the lawsuit," Caso said.

He declined to say how much the 19-month court fight cost the association.

Caso said there is fear Tripodo's win will open the door to other covenant violations. The board will discuss appealing the suit in a meeting this month, he said.

Daran Burns of Burns Speights & Grisham, Tripodo's neighbor and one of his attorneys, said the judge's ruling will not open the door to other violations of covenants because it is narrowly written to apply to the flagpole.

"The only thing that will make it worse is if they appeal it," Burns said, estimating that if he and attorney Scott Archer had charged Tripodo, the legal bill might have been as much as $20,000.

Tripodo, a semi-retired builder of cell towers, said flying the flag is in his blood. He is a former Army reservist whose brother fought in Vietnam and whose uncle died in Korea. When the association tried to negotiate, telling him he could put the pole in his backyard or fly the flag on a short pole bracketed to his house, he declined.

"How many American lives have been given up for this flag?" he asked.