Panel nixes restrictions on public accessCreating a more secure environment in the Douglas County Courthouse won’t include limiting access to a single entry.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Creating a more secure environment in the Douglas County Courthouse won’t include limiting access to a single entry.
Douglas County’s Executive Committee rejected a proposal Monday that would have restricted access to a single entry point through the Government Center skywalk.
For someone going to the courthouse to pay their taxes, that would have meant entering the Government Center at the North 14th Street entrance, taking the stairs or elevator to the second floor, heading to the courthouse through the skywalk, then taking the stairs or elevator down to the treasurer’s office on the first floor of the courthouse.
It was the No. 1 recommendation from a report by the U.S. Marshal Service after a review of the courthouse facility, and supported by the county’s Security and Facilities Committee.
The Public Safety Committee reviewed the report but made no recommendation, said County Board Chairman Doug Finn.
“It’s a difficult change to make,” said Douglas County Administrator Andy Lisak. He said even in Cook County, Minn., where a shooting occurred, it wasn’t an easy decision.
There are five access points to the courthouse through doors on the east, west, north and south sides of the building in addition to the skywalk entrance.
“The conclusion of the report says ‘with the ever-growing threat to the security to this’ it should be country but it says county ‘and the judicial process, these measures are recommended for not only the safety of the judges, but for the safety for everyone in the courthouse, including all employees, visitors and offenders,’” said Douglas County District Court Judge Kelly Thimm, reading from the report. “‘The courthouse is a public building but it is also one of the primary symbols of government ... a primary target for those wishing to make a statement against the government.’”
The goal of the recommendation is to deter possible threats and reduce the likelihood perpetrators could escape without being identified and prosecuted, Thimm said.
However, county board members on the committee and attending Monday’s meeting were reluctant to limit access to one entry point.
Supervisor Mark Liebaert questioned by the report didn’t address security at the Government Center as well. “We can make this a lock-down facility,” Liebaert said. “That doesn’t protect our workers over there.”
With limited parking at the courthouse, Supervisor Kay Johnson said limiting access to the north side of the building, through the Government Center, is going to be hard for the public to accept.
Supervisor Dan Corbin agreed. After all, he was parked on Belknap Street on Monday, and getting to the meeting would have required him to walk around the block to enter the Government Center to get to the meeting in the courthouse.
“I have strong opposition to that,” Corbin said. “I do not want to limit access to this courthouse.” He said he would favor adding personnel before he would favor making access more difficult for the public. “It just seems too restrictive to me.”
However, some were concerned about the county’s liability if something happened.
“We’ve got to start making steps,” said Supervisor Nick Baker. “What I’m concerned about most of all is now that you know the facts and you voted it down, that something happens, what do you think an attorney will do?”
“I think there are some incremental steps that can be taken,” said Supervisor Dave Conley.
He said while he understands staff could be vulnerable, he’s reluctant to start locking doors to the public.
“Two weeks ago, I was in Madison and I went to the Capitol,” Conley said. “It’s still open. You can still go there ... it’s still the people’s house.”
The committee agreed and denied the proposal to limit access to the courthouse to a single entrance. However, the panel approved locking the door on the north side of the courthouse that allows access to and from the Government Center on the first floor. The door was locked by Tuesday.
Other recommendations such as video surveillance and an emergency warning system will be implemented, Lisak said.
While the panel denied the measure for now, the matter was referred to Buildings and Grounds, and could be discussed by the panel again in the future.
Corbin said he’s not opposed to restricting access, but doesn’t believe one point of access is enough.
“I won’t go for just one entrance,” Liebaert said.