- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - With the adornment of multiple American flags, deactivated grenades and a variety of plaques commemorating his time in the service, Colonel Bill Smyser has always displayed a sense of patriotism throughout his Kokomo home.

Attempting to move that spirit into his front yard, however, has proven to be more difficult.

The story began at last year’s Howard County 4-H fair, when Smyser, 85, purchased a commemorative rock for $600 from Kokomo-based Boulder Design. On the rock, Smyser asked that his name, an American flag and 101st Airborne Division logo be placed. The logo is a reminder of his military service, where he was a brigade commander, during which he presided over 7,000 troops.

Having served 43 years in the military before his retirement in 1990, Smyser was thrilled to receive the rock on Nov. 13, and could hardly wait to place the tribute prominently in his front yard.

“I saw the display of rocks and I knew that I wanted to have one of (those),” Smyser said. “It was a little more than I wanted, but by gosh, I was going to have it.”

Following the rock’s arrival, Smyser said he immediately placed it near the road, where it stayed for approximately two to three months. During that time, he received multiple compliments from neighbors and community members both walking and driving by his home, he said.

The rock was a positive addition to the neighborhood, he felt, and he couldn’t imagine anyone having a problem with an elderly veteran overtly displaying his American pride.

“We had many people walk by and talk about how much they liked the rock and how great they thought it was,” Smyser told the Kokomo Tribune (https://bit.ly/1ICbIsG ). “Proudly is the way that I displayed that rock. People know me everywhere in Kokomo, and they know me as a colonel. People liked the rock.”

With nothing but goodwill surrounding the rock, it came as quite a shock to Smyser when he then received a letter from Villas West II Homeowners Association President Linda Koontz asking him to remove the rock.

The undated letter claimed that the rock was not “aesthetically pleasing” and requested he move it into his home or onto the back patio.

In response, Smyser and his fiancé, Bonnie Butler, who also serves as his caretaker, moved the rock into the garage - a decision that didn’t come easily to the couple.

“You could have shot me in the heart and it couldn’t have hurt me any more than how she hurt me,” said Butler through oncoming tears. “To me, when she asked him to remove that rock and put it in the back, that was taking away his honor. I still feel that way and I get very upset when I have to talk about this.

“His honor was taken away by removing the feelings he had put on the rock to display to the street and the public. It still hurts.”

Reminiscing on the first moment he read Koontz’s letter, Smyser was no more measured in his response, even claiming that Koontz had displayed her “unpatriotic and anti-American” attitude.

“I was quite a bit disturbed,” said Smyser. “After putting in 43 years on active and reserve duty, and to get a letdown on that - hearing I couldn’t even fly a flag on my own rock - it was a real disgrace. I am going to ask that she resigns or gets fired.”

After moving the monument into his garage - and subsequent placement to the side of the home nearly 2 months later - Smyser made his own move, recruiting Kokomo lawyer Erik J. May of May Law Offices. Wasting no time, May sent a letter to Koontz on April 30, requesting that she rethink the HOA’s position.

“First, given Colonel Smyser’s past service to his country and continued service to his community, I would have expected more deference and respect from the (Architectural Control Committee) than what was afford here,” wrote May, referring in part to the committee that approves yard additions. “Your dismissive tone and description of this ‘large rock’ belies what is simply a humble placard identifying a decorated veteran’s service to his country.”

Also discussed in the letter was May’s interpretation of the state’s restrictive covenants, which Koontz has repeatedly cited as justification for the rock’s removal. According to May, restrictive covenants are interpreted by law as commonly siding in favor of the “free use of property” - a position Koontz feels has been somewhat simplified.

“We have bylaws and covenants, and they state that you have to put in writing to the architectural committee your ideas about what you want to do in your yard,” said Koontz, who said multiple residents privately complained about the rock. “We look at it based on safety, aesthetics and about if it is going to work with the landscaping.”

According to Koontz, the neighborhood’s 149 condos hold nearly $17 million in assets and the largest agreed upon concern throughout the residential community has been protecting the appearance and safety of the homes.

Had Smyser created an attractive display for the rock, instead of freely placing it in the yard, the location could have worked, Kuntz said. But with the “danger” the rock could pose to hired lawn hands, and its unappealing appearance, it had to go, she said.

“We have people mowing and weed eating and they could get hurt,” said Koontz. “It also needs to be aesthetically appealing with the way you do it. He had that rock sitting in his yard without any landscaping. You need to decide on your plans and submit them. You can’t have a loose rock sitting on the ground.”

And the claims of her unpatriotic nature? Ridiculous, Koontz said. And to add to the injustice, she explained, these insults are coming from someone who has a reputation of skirting the “rules and regulations.”

“This has nothing to do with him being a veteran,” Koontz said. “My dad was a WWII fighter pilot, and I totally respect vets, policemen and firefighters. They all have my complete admiration. But we have had these covenants and laws in place for 22 years.

“He may think a little differently than the rest of us, but I’ve never met a military man that doesn’t understand the fact that there are rules. He is always trying to cause problems. In fact, he has called me at 4 a.m. about a barking dog. The last thing any of us on the board want is to cause problems, and we didn’t have any until (Smyser) arrived.”

After Koontz’s most recent letter - also signed by board members Harry Beaver and Marcia Miller - reiterating the board’s position to May, both Smyser and his lawyer are prepared to execute their plans of moving the rock back to its original location.

That step is expected to come following the HOA’s next board meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 121 Santa Fe Blvd.

It doesn’t matter if they change their minds or make the same decision, said Smyser, because the rock is going back to the front yard.

“If it’s rejected, I am going to place it right back out there, and I know they will fight it,” said Smyser. “It will go out there, but it will be up to her to get her lawyers to fight it. We haven’t gone to court yet, but I am willing to go to the highest court possible.

“I’ll call her and tell her that I put the rock out there, and I’ll tell her to take her action.”

___

Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com


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