BRADENTON -- There's no greater symbol of personal freedoms than the American flag, which is why a Bradenton homeowner has painted one across his 100-year-old house -- to protest what he says amounts to harassment by city code enforcement officials.
In late February, the city received a complaint about a live Christmas tree that was placed on the family home of Brent Greer at 3102 Riverview Drive.
The tree had fallen over, and Greer complied with a code enforcement officer's request to remove the tree, which was followed up by code enforcement in early May. It was during that visit that Greer said the situation became unacceptable.
"That's when he told me, 'We aren't done,' " said Greer. "He said he had other issues. And keep in mind, this was said during the post-inspection for the tree. I asked what the issues were, and he said he forgot his list."
Among the issues that were cited to Greer were that his house was not painted sufficiently to "city standards," and that there were children's toys in the yard.
Greer and his wife are the adoptive parents of seven children and also serve as foster parents. "So there are up to 10 or 11 children in the house at a time," Greer said. "Of course there are toys on the lawn."
But Bradenton Code Compliance Manager Volker Reiss said city code violations found at the house were many and substantial, including mold, mildew and bare wood showing on the structure, chipped and peeling paint, an accumulation of trash, exposed wires and decaying supporting members of a balcony railing.
Greer acknowledges that due to the age of his home, there are issues that he needs to stay on top of, but denies that his home looked dilapidated prior to painting. He said he understands the need for code enforcement, but believes the city should focus more on abandoned properties that are blighting neighborhoods, "rather than my family home."
As foster parents, the Greers are under consistent scrutiny from the state. Greer said he has never had an issue from the state as to the condition of his home or property.
"My seven kids are far more a priority than what the city thinks the standard of my house is," said Greer.
Greer said the incident left him bewildered and angry. As an American living in the same home he grew up in and bought by his grandmother in the 1950s, Greer said he has essentially been "threatened" by the city with a $250 per day fine just because "someone doesn't like the way my house looked."
Greer's neighborhood is not a deed-restricted community, so he does not answer to a homeowners association.
So he and two of his children opened cans of red, white and blue paint and commenced to turn the front of his home into an American flag.
"Just because somebody drives by and decides they don't like the look of my house?" Greer asked. "I thought this was the best way to remind people that this is still America."
His growing saga with the city has taken on a life of its own via social media. Dozens of people "liked" a photo of his newly painted home on Facebook, and there were several comments in support of Greer.
The neighborhood seems to be behind the Greers, as well.
"It's his house, and he should be able to do what he wants with it," said neighbor Cindy Cook, who had her own run-in with code enforcement while they were following up with Greer. "They didn't like where we parked the boat. If someone had a problem with the Christmas tree he had out, all they had to do was go talk to him and he would have gladly picked it up. It's just easier to talk to your neighbors."
Greer took his experience with code enforcement as an infringement on his personal rights.
"I told the code enforcement officer that the Constitution gives me rights, and he told me that the city's laws trump the Constitution," said Greer. "I said, 'Well, no, it doesn't.' This is America and what rules America is the Constitution."
Greer said he could understand if the city had cited serious infractions, but he said he was willing to comply.
The toys were picked up and the house has a new paint job, which was largely completed just in time for Memorial Day.
Greer, who said his family's role as a foster family "is a calling from God," must appear before the code enforcement board June 17 to determine if his actions have brought his home into compliance with city code.
Reiss stressed that the violations were more serious than just new paint and toys. As of Tuesday afternoon, he had not seen Greer's interpretation of compliance.
"We go out to inspect the day before a hearing," said Reiss. "At that time, we determine what has and has not been done."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.