NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio — A longtime North Olmsted resident was at odds with the city’s building department and its enforcement of certain zoning ordinances in regards to the resident’s displays of support for former President Donald Trump. After News 5's initial report, the City of North Olmsted withdrew its issue with the resident and said he is free to display the flags and banner again.
City officials had said that their enforcement of the zoning codes has nothing to do with politics, nor did it infringe upon the resident’s First Amendment rights.
Michael Yuhas, who firmly supports former President Trump, received a visit from an inspector with the city’s building department Wednesday afternoon. The inspector, who can be seen on surveillance video, spent roughly 10 minutes on Yuhas’ property taking cell phone photos of the flags and banners affixed to the front and side of Yuhas’ home.
The flags and banners displayed messages including support for a Trump presidential run in 2024, a message stating "F-Biden," another banner that read "Let’s go Brandon!"
The surveillance video shows what appeared to be a cordial conversation between the inspector and Yuhas’ wife. Later in the day, however, Yuhas received a call from building commissioner, Jeffrey Grusenmeyer. Yuhas said he was informed that the flags and banner needed to either be removed or placed in the window inside his home.
Yuhas said he immediately felt intimidated.
“[I was told I] can’t have flags that display anything like that. There can’t be writing on them. You can’t have banners,” Yuhas said. “You can’t force me, try to intimidate me to vote a certain way. You can’t tell me to take my sign down because it’s offensive. I’m entitled to my own choices.”
Grusenmeyer vehemently denied telling Yuhas that the flags and banner needed to be removed because of "offensive" messaging. Instead, Grusenmeyer said Yuhas’ displays of support for Trump were in violation of the city’s zoning code and, more specifically, ordinances that limit where such temporary signage can be placed on a residential property.
Grusenmeyer and an assistant to the mayor refused an on-camera interview.
Grusenmeyer said Yuhas’ display did not meet a specific part of the zoning code which only permits temporary signage to be placed in the window or affixed to the ground. Additionally, Grusenmeyer said the visit to Yuhas’ property by a building inspector was prompted by complaints that were filed into the building department. News 5 has filed a public records requests for copies of those complaints.
Grusenmeyer said under the zoning code, items like flags or banners are considered as "temporary signs" whenever a “message” or information is conveyed. Subsequently, items like the American flag are presumably exempt. However, Grusenmeyer could not immediately and definitively say whether a Cleveland Browns flag, for example, would be in violation of the zoning code.
Grusenmeyer repeatedly and strenuously insisted that the city’s enforcement action, which did not result in a citation or any punitive measure, was in no way motivated by politics or in any attempt to chill Yuhas’ First Amendment rights. Additionally, Grusenmeyer said the only time politics ever came up in his conversation with Yuhas occured when Yuhas accused him of being a Democrat and that the inspection was politically motivated.
“We do not judge or review the content of the signs,” Grusenmeyer said. “We did not ever talk to anybody or imply that the city restricts or desires to restrict the message or content of free speech.”
The city’s zoning code specifically addresses the subject of free speech, stating, “… All regulations in this chapter are to be construed, whenever possible, in favor of vigorous political debate and accommodation of the rights of persons to speak freely.” Grusenmeyer said the actions taken by the city’s building department are in line with that provision.
Yuhas doesn’t buy it. Because the building department has also told Yuhas’ landlord that the flags and banner need to be removed or re-located, Yuhas has opted to locate them inside the windows of his home.
“I’m shaking I’m so upset by it,” Yuhas said. “It’s especially intimidating to [my landlord], saying they’re going to fine them, saying it’s their responsibility and if we don’t take them down or he doesn’t come over and take them down, he faces prosecution.”
On Friday, News 5 learned that the City of North Olmsted has withdrawn its issue with Yuhas. The city notified him on Friday afternoon that he is free to display the flags and banner once more.
A city spokesperson said, "Our Building and Law Departments are in the process of reviewing that section of the code."
Note: The video on this story is from Thursday's report, before North Olmsted withdrew its issue with the resident.