Business manager

Village and business leader blame each other over US flag controversy

A dispute between a Prairie Grove business owner and the village over his temporary sign ordinance escalated into an American flag controversy.

Gianelli manager Terry Trobiani said the village unfairly fined the restaurant for having American flags outside the establishment. But village officials said the problem was Trobiani’s placement of the flags on the Route 176 right-of-way, not the flag itself.

The dispute led to protests on July 17 and Thursday, organized by McHenry County Republican Party Secretary Karen Tirio, who heard about the situation from a Facebook friend.

“To me, (the flag) honors your veterans and all the people who fought for the very right to fly our flag,” Tirio said.

But the version of events that Trobiani made public is a distorted version of what happened, the village said in a nearly three-page press release posted on its website.

“Trobiani misled the press and public into believing that the Village of Prairie Grove cited him simply for displaying an American flag, when in fact Director Trobiani’s actions were very clearly intended to taunt the Village and to fan a fire under the guise of civil liberties,” the village statement read.

Prohibition of temporary signs

Trobiani has been fighting the village’s temporary signage ordinance — which bans high-visibility signs, including A-frames, banners and feathered flags — for years, criticizing it as hostile to business.

“The Village of Prairie Grove is a primarily residential community with high aesthetic standards, including reasonable temporary signage regulations,” the village said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the village lifted its temporary ban on signs to help businesses, but quickly reinstated the rule after Governor JB Pritzker announced in early June that Illinois would move to Phase 5 of its reopening plan, which means the end of most COVID-19 restrictions.

Village Chairman David Underwood signed an executive order on June 8 rescinding the suspension of the temporary signage ban, which he says has always been the plan.

As a business, Gianelli needs time to recover from the pandemic, especially since customers are still unsure if they can eat indoors despite the state reopening, Trobiani said. A sign could help Gianelli’s, 3111 Route 176, advertise its restaurants inside, he said.

“Where is our recovery period? Aren’t you giving businesses time to recover? Is it like a water tap? OK, business off, business on?” Trobiani said in an interview.

Emails were sent and phone calls were made to Gianelli advising his owners of the return of the temporary signage ban, Underwood said.

“They definitely knew about it,” he said. “The village has had years and years of compliance issues with the signage issue at Gianelli.”

Businesses are allowed to display temporary signs if they get a waiver from the village. To obtain one, business owners must apply for one and then appear before the village council at a meeting for its approval.

Trobiani said that after the temporary sign ban was reinstated, he decided to “get a little political” and ask the village for a 24-inch by 36-inch A-frame sign instead of the three signs. that he originally wanted. compromise.

Trobiani said his plan was to turn off the sign at the start of the day and bring it inside when the restaurant closed.

His request to the village was for the sign to be permitted year-round, said village administrator Mike Freese, making it a permanent sign in the eyes of the village.

Trobiani said the board denied his request after going into closed session at a recent meeting.

Freese said the board went into executive session under the Illinois Open Meetings Act’s exemption for potential litigation because Trobiani threatened to sue.

“He keeps saying we went there to vote, and we didn’t go there to vote,” Freese said. “There was no vote”

Underwood declined to comment on what was discussed behind closed doors, although he said the village administrator conveyed to Trobiani the council’s unanimous thoughts on the requested waiver.

Trobiani denied threatening to sue the village.

“What I said was, ‘That should go to court. But I’m smarter than that. Who’s going to win a lawsuit against a municipality?” he said. “I’m not going to waste my money suing you.”

A fight for the flag

This month, the dispute between Trobiani and the village shifted to the American flags Trobiani planted in the grass outside his business for July 4th.

Trobiani had partially granted the village’s demands by removing all temporary signs, but said he was going to “Walmart to buy more American flags to put in the ground,” according to the village’s press release.

Eventually, Gianelli received two $100 bills, one for the flags not to be set back at least 15 feet from the property line and another saying that the flags must be on a permanent flagpole.

“Apparently they don’t like American flags,” Trobiani said, adding that he purchased flag kits from Menard to display.

Freese told Trobiani that flags in the right-of-way were prohibited in both type and location on the freeway and must be lowered or moved to an authorized location, depending on the village.

“The American flag is a symbol of our freedom, democracy and the freedoms we hold dear,” the village said. “For this reason, the Village upholds its high standards and requires that all American flags fly on permanent flagpoles or sticks.”

Rallies in support of Trobiani took place outside Gianelli’s on Route 176, with about 50 people taking part in the July 17 protest with about 6 p.m. notice.

During the rally, $200 was raised for Trobiani to pay for his tickets.

“It was great to see the community come together around a small business owner who went through a really tough time last year, like all small businesses,” Tirio said.

Prairie Grove officials said Trobiani was twisting the account of what happened, and Underwood said village officials received threatening emails.

“The village vehemently supports all of his businesses,” the village said. “It is disappointing and offensive for a business leader to present such a blatantly distorted version of events to the public, rallying others under the false guise of undermining free speech and using the symbol of our democracy as a tool in a twisted ploy to further one’s own commercial interest by displaying temporary signage.”