It's A War Of Words


Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

Published March 9, 2006

TAMPA - Before David Kelley went to Iraq, he bought his wife a "Support Our Troops" sign to display outside the couple's home in the Westchase subdivision.

When Kelley, an Army private, went overseas in November, Stacey Kelley posted the sign outside their home. For her, the sign is a daily reminder of the sacrifice her husband and fellow soldiers are making.

But officials of Westchase, in northwest Hillsborough County, view the sign differently. They say the 2-foot-high sign violates community rules. Stacey Kelley, 24, received a letter from the homeowners association last month stating she could be fined $100 a day if she does not remove the sign.

"I've been crying and everything since I got that," she said. "It's ridiculous that no one can even show their support."

Deed restrictions prohibit Westchase residents from displaying signs outside their homes except "for sale" or "for rent" notices. Residents get a copy of the rules when they move into the community.

Stacey Kelley, who has lived in the gated Stonebridge neighborhood in Westchase for about five years, said she hasn't received complaints from other residents since putting up the sign more than three months ago.

The red, white and blue ribbon-shaped sign sits back from the street, next to the Kelleys' garage. Inside the house is a room filled with photographs and memorabilia David Kelley, 24, has sent home.

Stacey Kelley, the wife of an Army private now serving in Iraq, faces a $100-a-day fine for posting a 'Support Our Troops' sign in her Westchase yard. Homeowners' association rules prohibit residents from posting most signs.

Displaying the sign and photographs is one of the ways Stacey Kelley stays connected to her husband during his two-year tour of duty, she said.

During their rare telephone conversations, Stacey Kelley said, she makes sure to tell her husband about the other signs, bumper stickers and symbols of support she sees.

"If we're showing any kind of support to them, I know they love it so much," she said. "They should never be forgotten."

One person who does understand the significance of the sign, both for Stacey Kelley and the troops, is Westchase homeowners association President Daryl Manning.

As the community's elected leader, Manning must enforce community standards, but as an Army reservist who served in Iraq, Manning is sympathetic to the Kelleys' situation.

"This sign is not offensive to me," Manning said. "In fact, I appreciate the support of the community, because I was one of those troops."

Manning said his personal feelings can't be allowed to trump his responsibility to the community. If Stacey Kelley is allowed to keep her sign, Manning said, there's nothing to prevent other residents from putting up signs that have negative messages about the troops.

Pat Gross, who lives across the street from the Kelleys, walks by the sign every day and says it hasn't stirred political debate in the community. If the association ever were to consider making an exception to its rule, Gross said, this would be the time.

The rule "is there for a reason, but sometimes the reason doesn't make sense," he said.

Neighbor Barbara Mulvihill said the association should be celebrating the sacrifice one of its residents is making, not creating problems for his wife.

"He's fighting for us, all of us," Mulvihill said.

Manning said the homeowners association will address the issue tonight at its monthly board meeting. The board could decide not to fine the Kelleys. Even so, Manning said, the sign likely will have to go.

Stacey Kelley, who plans to attend the meeting, said she's going to follow the advice her husband gave during their last conversation. "He said even if it comes down to paying the fines, he doesn't want to take it down."