Terry Trobiani: Illinois drive-thru manager claims flying US flags on July 4 led to $200 in fines

Terry Trobiani: Illinois drive-thru manager claims flying US flags on July 4 led to $200 in fines

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A McHenry County, Illinois restaurant manager says he’s being ticketed for flying the American flag in front of his business. But the village of Prairie Grove claims the accusation is false and a “misrepresentation of the facts”. The village says it’s where he’s flying the flag that’s causing the problem.

The dispute reportedly led to protests on July 17, organized by McHenry County Republican Party Secretary Karen Tirio. “To me, (the flag is) honoring your veterans and all the people who fought for the very right to fly our flag,” Tirio said.

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Who is Terry Trobiani?

United States flags left on the ground attached to Gianelli’s temporary signage (Village of Prairie Grove)

Terry Trobiani, the manager of Gianelli’s Drive-Thru, located at 3111 Route 176 in Prairie Grove, which is northeast of Crystal Lake, says he was just trying to celebrate the Fourth of July when he placed two American flags on wooden poles in front of the establishment.

The Prairie Grove Police Department reportedly issued the business two citations, each carrying a $100 fine, on July 16. The first citation stated that Trobiani’s restaurant was improperly displaying the flags in violation of the village’s ordinance and that the flags should be displayed only on permanent flagpoles or staffs. The second citation stated that the flagpoles should be set back a minimum of 15 feet from the property line.

The following day, Trobiani and his supporters gathered in front of the restaurant to protest the actions of the village. One of the signs held by a protester reportedly said “This business fined $200 for flying U.S. flag” while another protester’s sign said “Bill of rights $200 fine for flying the red, white and blue.”

“The American flag is a symbol of patriotism,” said Trobiani. “It’s not a sign. They’re equating it with open/closed. Dine in, sign out.”

US flags duct-taped to a State highway sign in front of Gianelli’s restaurant (Village of Prairie Grove)

The Village of Prairie Grove then released a lengthy press release in retaliation. Trobiani, the release said, has been a long-time vocal critic of the Village’s ordinance that regulates business signage, high-visibility temporary signs such as A-frames, feather flags, and banners. 

“The Village of Prairie Grove is a predominantly residential community with high aesthetic standards, including reasonable regulations of temporary signage. Manager Trobiani has made his thoughts on the Village’s sign ordinance known in multiple Letters to the Editor, containing misrepresentations of the Village’s actions and personal insults toward Village Board members.” the statement said.

In light of the strain that Covid-19 was placing on small businesses and restaurants in particular, the village president signed an executive order in March, 2020, temporarily allowing temporary signage. The allowance expired upon the expiration of Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order No. 2020-07 which mandated mask usage and social distancing in businesses, the statement claimed, adding this was something that was informed to all.

Deborah Peterson, the owner of Gianelli’s, was reportedly notified via email that the executive order had been rescinded. When Gianelli’s was found in violation, village staff, including the village building inspector, village administrator, village police chief and a village police officer, reportedly explained to Trobiani that Gianelli’s would be ticketed if it did not comply.

“Trobiani’s actions, the statement said, “appear to have been an effort to set the village up for public scrutiny for an issue it did not create. Again, it is simply a violation of State and local Municipal Code to place anything on the right-of-way of a state highway.”

The statement claimed that when the village officials attempted to explain this to Trobiani, he became irate and refused to cooperate. He also allegedly yelled obscenities and threatened lawsuits. “The American flag is a symbol of our freedom, democracy, and the liberties we hold dear,” the statement said. “For that reason, the village upholds its high standards and requires all US flags to be flown from permanent flag poles or staffs,” adding that Trobiani was using the American flag “disrespectfully, as a weapon to fight the village on his issue with the village’s ordinance regulating temporary signs.”

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