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UP AND DOWN

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By Ben Carlson

A drive around Lawrenceburg reveals American flags being flown at government-run buildings at full staff, half-staff or not at all.

For example, a driver heading south Monday morning on Main Street sees the flags flying at half-staff in front of the Early Childhood Center and the nearby library. Just up the street the driver sees the flag flying at full staff at City Hall.

Keep cruising and the driver sees flags at full staff atop memorial markers at the American Legion Auxiliary's Healing Field on Broadway, the city's fire hall and police station.

But at Robert B. Turner Elementary School, the high school and middle schools, flags are all at half-staff.

A pole with no flag is seen at Saffell Street Elementary, ditto in front of the county courthouse.

So, what gives with the flags?

According to www.ushistory.org, only the president and state governors are able to order flags flown at half-staff, but their decrees are mandates only for federal- and state-owned buildings.

Anderson County's schools are owned by neither, but do try to follow the governor's recommendation, which is generally triggered by a Kentucky soldier's death in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to Superintendent Kim Shaw.

"I get an e-mail from the state education commissioner's office stating that the governor has directed flags at half staff," Shaw said Monday afternoon. "They always put a disclaimer in the e-mail, saying schools may wish to decide not to participate because school buildings are not considered state property.

"As far as I know, all the schools abide by that."

At City Hall, which is also not state-owned property, Clerk Robbie Hume said the city doesn't directly follow the governor's recommendations, but does try to keep up with whether the flag should be half or full.

"We try to stay in tune with what the state does," Hume said Monday afternoon. "We generally lower it in response to a death of a Kentucky soldier, especially if the soldier is from Lawrenceburg or has a family member in central Kentucky."

Library Director Jeff Sauer said he often takes his cue from what he sees at the Early Childhood Center.

"From my office, I can look over there and go by what they're doing," he said.

Because of the large number of Kentuckians and Kentucky-based soldiers fighting and dying in the war, keeping up with the governor's recommendations requires a fair amount of vigilance for public officials.

Although the governor's office does send out press releases, the easiest way to know is by visiting the governor's website, which is updated each time a recommendation is made.

"It seems like we can't get it all the way up because of these tragedies," said Wayne Reese, principal at Turner Elementary. "What happens is [a soldier] dies say on Jan. 1, so to honor him we slid the flags to half staff until his burial. Then what happens is [another soldier] dies.

At the middle school, Principal Steve Karsner said he has decided to leave the school's flag at half-staff.

"I've decided to leave the flag at half staff until the war is over," he said. "I guess we could go up and down with it, but it's a reminder that we still have troops at war."

Sauer, the library director, said his preference is to lower the flag for any soldier killed in the wars.

"If any American's being killed, we should honor them," he said. "I will sometimes allow that to influence putting it up or down.

"I have patrons who will come in and get on me one way or the other about it but for me, they're Americans and we should honor them just as we honor Kentuckians."

Hume, the city clerk, said the city doesn't have anyone monitoring the governor's website, but that City Councilman and veteran Ken Evans is vigilant about trying to inform the city of any federal or state decree.

"He holds the flag near and dear," said Hume. "If he hears it, he'll call in and tell us."

After hearing Monday afternoon that the governor's website states that flags should be half staff due to a soldier's death, Hume did have the flag at City Hall lowered. He said doing the same at the police station is difficult because doing so causes the POW flag beneath the American flag to tangle in the lanyard.

Although only the governor and president can officially issue a decree, Hume said there are occasions when it's reasonable for local officials to make the decision.

"I think a local death that may not be something that doesn't gain statewide media attention is still a tragic event locally. I think it's a case when you have to use your best judgment."