Employee refuses to lower flags for Helms

July 9, 2008 5:24:56 PM PDT
A longtime state employee has chosen to retire instead of lowering flags to half-staff to honor former Republican Sen. Jesse Helms. Gov. Mike Easley had ordered all U.S. and state flags lowered after Helms died July 4. But L.F. Eason III told his staff to ignore the directive at the state Standards Laboratory in Raleigh.

"I just did not feel like Senator Helms was somebody that I could honor," says L.F. Eason of Cary, a nearly 30 year employee of the state.

As the Director of the Department of Agriculture's Standards Laboratory, he sent an email to his staff telling them not to lower the flags at the lab to honor Helms even before the governor ordered all state agencies to do so.

"I feel like he voted against every civil rights legislation, he filibustered the Martin Luther King holiday," Eason said.

"No, he didn't tie Matthew Shephard to a fence in Wyoming but it was his rhetoric against gays I think that fueled that kind of action. He didn't drag a black man to death in Texas but he definitely was not for civil rights." Eason told his boss he didn't feel comfortable being in the office if the flags were lowered.

"And he said the only option is that you'd be fired for insubordination. So I asked if retirement was still an option." Eason chose that option despite nearly 30-years of what the Ag Department calls outstanding service.

Spokesperson Brian Long said the decision came as a shock.

"I think it was a reaction of sort of shock, surprise, that he was taking this stand," Long said. "Regardless of what his personal feelings may have been about Senator Helms, the sort of the bottom line was that he was responsible for overseeing a state facility which belongs to the people and flags that belong to the state. He was given an order that started at the top, at the governor's office."

Eason understood the order but refused to comply.

"You're honoring his service to the state and nation, I think it was his service to the state and nation that was so detrimental."

Eason says he knows some people will think he's crazy but he would argue that he's just standing up for what he believed. Ironically, that's what so many people said about Jesse Helms.


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