By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Camping World/Gander RV CEO Marcus Lemonis says by his reckoning, at the end of August his company owed $20,000 in fines over a flag-flying issue in North Carolina.
The fines are just a piece of the seemingly intractable situation between Lemonis and a majority of city council members in Statesville, a city of 25,000 near metropolitan Charlotte.
Statesville’s city ordinance doesn’t condemn flying the national emblem, but does put a limit on how large a flag can be flown: 25 feet by 40 feet. The Gander RV flag dwarfs the ordinance allowance, scaling in at 40 by 80. When city officials contacted Gander to urge them to comply with the size ordinance, Lemonis stuck his feet in the ground, declaring that he would sooner go to jail than to reduce the flag size.
The city has imposed a $50-per-day fine for each day the ordinance is violated. In an interview near the end of August, Lemonis opined the fines were up to $20,000. But he told a reporter from WBTV, “Under no circumstance is that flag coming down. None. Zero. Zilch.” He did concede that eventually the fines would have to be paid.
To emphasize the company’s give-no-ground stance, during a televised college football game between Miami and Florida, aired locally, Camping World ran a commercial showing veterans employed by the company raising a giant American Flag, much like the one in Statesville.
Lemonis said the timing and location was “not accidental.” He called it “An appeal to city council members in Statesville and across the country.” In June, Statesville’s council members voted 5 to 3 not to amend the city ordinance regarding flags, effectively keeping a lid on the size limitation.
If nothing else, the issue has stirred up plenty of controversy. Veterans have regularly appeared at city council meetings, using public comment periods to tell council members they needed to back down and allow the larger flag to support patriotism. At the same time, others who say they are veterans have written letters to media outlets, saying the size of a flag is not the measure of patriotism, but observing law and order is.
So the standoff continues. And each month means Lemonis’ tab with city hall increases by at least another $1,400.