Since 2006, anyone entering the Wright County Courthouse has walked through a metal detector. To some, it’s a necessary precaution in the post-9/11 world. To others, it’s unneeded and too expensive. At the July 2 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners weighed the options of how to proceed.
Commissioner Charlie Borrell has been the driving force behind the removal of the metal detector checkpoints at the public entrances to the courthouse, claiming that it is an infringement of basic freedom. He agrees with protecting the judges and personnel in the courts area, but believes that forcing every citizen who enters the courthouse to walk through a metal detector and having their bags searched is overkill.
“I want to have the courtrooms secure because that is our responsibility by state statute,” Borrell said. “I think most of us accept things that the government imposes on us, whether we agree with it or not. But to make anyone who walks through the doors of the courthouse to go through a metal detector is something I resent as a citizen. I find those metal detectors to be obtrusive and meaningless.”
Not everyone shares Borrell’s opinion when it comes to the need for entry-point metal detectors. At the June 20 building committee of the whole meeting, several department heads stated that their employees feel more at ease knowing that anyone who might potentially be armed and dangerous is screened before getting inside the courthouse and that the metal detectors are a strong deterrent to prevent someone with bad intentions from getting access into the courthouse.
Sheriff Joe Hagerty said that he has concerns of his own. The sheriff’s department is responsible for providing protection for judges and the staffs from court services, court administration and the county attorney’s office. He believes the current system keeps a law enforcement presence in a very visible way at the courthouse and removing the metal detectors from the front entrances and returning one of them to the courts area would compromise that presence.
“My understanding is that the purpose of having the metal detectors at the entrances is to have our officers providing security,” Hagerty said. “The job of the sheriff is to protect judges and court administration and supply bailiffs for the courts, not be in charge of courthouse security. Some of the discussion about moving the metal detectors has been eliminating at least one of the positions at the door. What those officers provide is having someone on scene in the event of an emergency. If the expectation is that we’re the first call for help at the courthouse, don’t trim my staff down. If that happens, if someone calls 911 from inside the courthouse, the Buffalo Police Department might end up being the first to respond.”
The board voted unanimously to refer the matter to the personnel committee with the intention of moving the metal detectors. The referral will allow the board to gather more information regarding employee concerns before making a final decision, but Hagerty believes that the metal detectors are likely going to go away from the entrance doors.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but my guess would be that the board will pull the metal detectors from the front doors at some point,” Hagerty said. “It looks like they have enough votes to do it. From my perspective, I’m all about public safety and I believe having the metal detectors at the front door serves a purpose. But, that isn’t my call to make whether they stay or they go.”
In other items on the July 2 agenda, the board:
• Authorized the building committee to tour the abandoned sheriff’s office in the county courthouse to determine if the space would be suitable for use as an employee lunchroom and testing area.
• Approved rejecting both bids received for improvements to County Ditch 10. The project was expected to have a price tag of approximately $100,000, but the low bid was $144,000 and the other bid was almost double that amount. The biggest discrepancy from the estimated cost to what the bidders submitted dealt with cost surrounding the removal of trees, which came in more than double what was anticipated on the lowest bid. The project will be re-bid in the fall.
• Adopted a Continuity of Operations Plan for the county. The plan is designed to lay out the responsibilities of the county board and county departments in the event of a catastrophic event that could result in the loss of county buildings or an epidemic that could knock out a significant portion of the county’s workforce.
• Approved signatures on a request for the county to access more money from the state’s Septic Loan Program. In 2011, the county received $300,000 in loan money for residents to make upgrades to their septic systems at low interest rates. All of that money was utilized within the first couple of months. Other counties turned back unused loan funds, which created a second pool of money. The county’s request is for an additional $210,000 in loan money.
• Voted to reject all bids for the Beebe Lake Trail Project with the cities of Hanover and St. Michael. It was determined there was ambiguity in the bid specifications and the result was that bidders weren’t clear as to exactly what they were bidding on. The project is set to be re-bid with revised specifications. The bids are scheduled to be opened at 11 a.m. Friday, July 12 at the Public Works Building.
• Approved asking bond counsel Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers Inc. to attend a board meeting in July to make a presentation concerning the county’s ability to bond for major county projects. As things currently stand, the only county bonds are for the construction of the new jail and the last remodeling project at the county courthouse.
• Set a transportation committee of the whole meeting for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 9. The committee will discuss space needs at the highway department and a collaborative road project in the City of Otsego dealing with construction at the intersection of 70th Street and CSAH 37.
Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.