Flag-flying merchant in heated nondispute with Westminster


Main Street merchant Michael H. Klein wants the city of Westminster "to proceed with my trial . . . for flying the Maryland state flag and the three American flags outside my shop."

But city officials said Mr. Klein hasn't been cited for any code violations or charged with any crimes, and there is no trial with which to proceed.

Mr. Klein calculates that he may owe the city $146,000, or perhaps $438,000, in fines over the flag issue. But city Public Works Director Thomas B. Beyard said Mr. Klein doesn't owe Westminster a cent.

Mr. Klein owns the House of Antiques and Collectibles at 40 W. Main St., a small, narrow, crowded shop. He flies a Maryland state flag and three small U.S. flags above the Grecian statue, stools, pitchers and night stands that he displays on the sidewalk when his shop is open.

The dispute dates to Dec. 22, 1993, when code enforcement officer Bart R. Myers notified Mr. Klein that his flags were "over the sidewalk and low enough that pedestrian traffic could be impeded."

Mr. Myers' letter said that blocking the sidewalk so pedestrians or vehicles can't get by is a violation of the city code. The penalty for such a violation is $25 for the first offense and $50 for each subsequent one.

The dispute may hinge on the word, "violation."

Mr. Beyard said Mr. Klein faces no fines or penalties because he has not been cited for a violation, which is not the same as a citation.

When the code enforcement officer finds a violation, he notifies the owner that it must be corrected. If the owner doesn't act, the city can issue a citation, which is similar to a parking ticket and carries a fine.

Mr. Beyard said Westminster has not issued citations to any merchants for sidewalk violations.

Mr. Klein said no one ever explained to him that a violation is different from a citation.

He said that if he is in violation of the city code, he should be fined for every day of the eight years he has been in business because he has always flown the flags. At $50 a day for eight years, his fine would be $146,000. He said Mr. Myers told him the fine could be $400 a day, which would be $438,000 for three years of daily violations.

Mr. Beyard would not permit Mr. Myers to be interviewed.

Mr. Myers' 1993 violation letter to Mr. Klein suggested that the shop owner should "display the flags from the second floor of the building where your business is located."

But, Mr. Klein said, "This building doesn't have a second floor."

In a seven-page letter to Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan March 8, Mr. Klein asked for speedy legal action against him, "so as I may no longer wait and anguish and suffer. I have lived in constant mental anguish, fear, insecurity and depression waiting for the city of Westminster to proceed with further action."

Mayor Yowan said he plans to reply that "the matter is closed as far as we're concerned.""

If the flags are not in violation, Mr. Klein wrote, he wants compensation from the city for lost income, work time in dealing with "the problems created for me by the city of Westminster," the cost of newspaper advertisements he placed about what he contends is a pattern of harassment by the city.

Mr. Beyard and Mr. Yowan denied that Mr. Klein has been singled out for harassment. "His store hasn't even come up in conversation since I've been mayor, until he wrote us the letter," Mr. Yowan said.

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