Condo company reverses American flag ban

Posted Dec. 13, 2010, at 8:55 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Two days after her fight to display the American flag became public, a Hampden woman has been told not only may she put her flag back up, but also that a permanent flagpole with lighting will go up near the entrance of the condominium complex she lives in.

For Darla Coombs, the woman at the center of the controversy, news of the change was music to her ears.

“I never, never, never expected this kind of support,” Coombs said Monday. She has been the focus of regional and national media attention, including an interview request from the “Fox & Friends” morning talk show.

People at the gym where she works out applauded her when she arrived Monday morning and patients and others have been giving her thumbs up and “atta girls” all day, she said.

“There’s support coming in from all over the place on this,” said Coombs, a nurse practitioner who works for a Hermon family medical practice.

Gary Goldberg, one of the developers of Highland Ridge, confirmed the policy change Monday afternoon in a telephone interview.

Goldberg said that members of the Highland Ridge Condominium Association contacted over the weekend and Monday agreed to make an exception to their bylaws that will allow Coombs and other condo owners to mount American flags to the front of their homes.

“Everybody I contacted is OK with it,” he said. “This is the nicest group of people I’ve ever met in my life.”

Goldberg noted that the bylaws developed by condo owners did not intentionally target Old Glory, but rather damage caused by fixtures used to attach flags to the front of the residential units.

He also wanted to make it clear that the property manager, Venise Bard, did not make the call that led to Coombs’ being directed to take her flag down. Rather, he said, Bard was merely upholding existing bylaws.

“I never meant to make a big stink about this,” Coombs said. “I just wanted to be patriotic, to show my support for the troops and my country.”

Not only will Coombs be permitted to reinstall her own flag — which she said she planned to do as soon as she got home from work Monday — she also learned that anyone else who wants to fly Old Glory in front of their condos can do so.

Coombs put the flag up, with the blessing of her immediate neighbor, when her son joined the Army last spring.

The grumbling soon began, and by late summer a survey had been passed around. At a meeting last month, association members voted 8-4 not to allow flags to be mounted on the front of individual condos.

Coombs asked whether they would agree to have a flagpole put up somewhere in the development if she paid for the pole, the cement pad and a light, but that was not approved either.

Coombs held her ground for a while and left the flag up, but eventually took it down to avoid further controversy.

The matter, however, continued to gnaw at Coombs, whose battle became public when it was told in Renee Ordway’s weekly column in the Bangor Daily News,

“I come from strong line of military people,” she said, noting that she is a veteran herself, as well as the daughter, sister and niece of veterans.

She’s also the mother of a combat soldier serving in the Army.

And though she didn’t know it until somebody faxed her on Monday, Coombs had federal law on her side.

Public Law 109-243, also known as the “Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005,” expressly prohibits condominium associations and similar groups from adopting or enforcing any policy that “would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag of the United States” on any privately owned residential property within the association.

On Monday, Coombs said she’s feeling a little like Barbara Frietchie, the subject of John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1864 poem of the same name.

The poem tells the story of a Pennsylvania woman who flew her Union flag at the risk of being shot by Confederate soldiers who were passing through and wins the respect of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

It reads, in part:

“‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,

But spare your country’s flag,’ she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,

Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred

To life at that woman’s deed and word;

‘Who touches a hair of yon gray head

Dies like a dog! March on!’ he said.”

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