New Jackson County Sheriff Tony Boggs will head up a committee charged with looking into the feasibility of limiting access to the Jackson County Courthouse to a single, secured entrance.
Jackson County Commission President Tommy Nutter asked Boggs to head up the committee during the county governing panel’s regular meeting Thursday morning.
EMS Director Steve McClure (county safety officer), new Commissioner Mike Randolph, IT manager Greg Thomas and Assessor Brian K. Thomas were also named to the committee, along with input from all county elected officials in general.
During the commission’s January 10, Family Court Judge Rebecca Cornett led a contingent requesting the panel consider the single secured courthouse entrance.
Cornett suggest the single public entrance be the one into the lobby area across from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department headquarters on Maple Street. The limitation would not affect keycard holders, Cornett said. The single entrance would be monitored by a deputy sheriff or court security officer and entrants would be funneled through a metal detector and the use of a x-ray machine for purses, etc. to enhance security.
The Maple Street entrance is the best one considering it is handicapped accessible and leads to the ground floor elevators adjacent to the County Clerk’s Office.
As things stand now, it is impossible to guarantee security in the courthouse, Cornett said. She further stated she has contacted all elected officials and they are in favor of the single entrance request.
“We’ve been fortunate, blessed that we haven’t had a bad incident in all of these years,” she said.
Judge Thomas C. Evans said the switch to a single entrance will be an inconvenience to the public, but the flipside is that with all the entrances to the courthouse the potential for armed people entering is a real danger. He added that Mason County is moving to a single monitored courthouse entrance.
“It’s a sad commentary, a ready sad problem waiting to happen,” said Evans. “I recommend the Counbty Commission seriously consider doing this. I feel a personal obligation to the safety of the people in family court and magistrate court.”
Sheriff Tony Boggs said the single entrance would require at least two officers and will be time consuming with search of peurses, etc. An x-ray machine will cost about $30,000, he said. He added that the Maple Street entrance would need to be fortified with barricades since the handicapped accessibility itself there could lead to problems with vehicle drive-up access.
Those in attendance admitted that family court is the most volatile area of the courthouse on a daily basis.
Page 2 of 3 - Circuit Clerk Bruce DeWees noted that there is a bottleneck in the hallway which serves the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Magistrate Court and Family Court on the second floor of the courthouse.
Others noted that the look of a secured single entrance is a deterrent in itself—an image that “they’re ready for me.”
Commission attorney Eric Holmes noted there are liability issues involved with regard to courthouse security.
The Supreme Court does courthouse assessments and has recommended a single entrance for the Jackson County Courthouse, Cornett advised.
In Thursday’s meeting, Nutter said he has money concerns about a single access with the costs including salaries and benefits for three people to man the entrance around the clock.
A suggestion was made about signage warning against carrying weapons into the courthouse with random searches in force.
Boggs agreed with Nutter about manpower issues, saying his department could not provide the entrance monitors under current staff levels.
Boggs said everyone he have talked to is against the single entrance proposal.
However, Commissioner Dick Waybright said everyone he has talked to is in favor the single secured entrance.
All agreed that the purchase of an x-ray machine to screen purses and such would be a necessity as opposed to manually searching courthouse entrants.
“Going through the secured entrance should be mandatory for everyone including courthouse employees,” said Nutter. “It should be strictly enforced. Anyone caught letting someone in another way should be fired on the spot. If we’re going to have a secure courthouse, we need to have a secure courthouse.”
In other action, Commissioners:
• Acknowledged the promotion of Capt. H.L. Faber to Chief Deputy Sheriff retroactive to January 1, 2013.
• Approved the VOCA grant application with regard to Victims Advocate Megan Shockey. The $31,525 grant requires a $7,882 local match with $3,000 in-kind.
• Acknowledged the employment of David Richardson as Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and Marquetta VanHoose as an employee in the Prosecutor’s office retroactive to January 1, 2013.
• Acknowledged the resignation of telecommunicator Jamie Hart retroactive to January 4, 2013.
• Heard that an expansion of the Poultry Barn at the county fairgrounds is planned.
• Authorized the list of uncollectable NSF checks as presented by the sheriff’s tax office be reconciled back to the General County Fund and noted for the record that an attempt has been made to collect the funds. The cases have been dismissed from Magistrate Court.
• Approved exonerations as submitted by Assessor Brian Thomas.
Page 3 of 3 - Approved fiduciary paperwork as submitted by the Fiduciary Supervisor.
Cancelled the January 24 Commission meeting.