Commissioners keep on debating security
Morgan County Commissioners Brenda Hutchinson and Tommy Swaim again argued over courthouse security at the commissioners’ meeting on Thursday afternoon, October 14.
Hutchinson expressed her disappointment that fewer people are attending commission meetings since the move into the new courthouse and suggested the reason is due to the increased security.
She asked Commissioners Stacy Dugan and Swaim to allow the double doors at the left of the main entrance be open during commission meetings so the public has direct access down the corridor to the meeting room.
Hutchinson said a door in the corridor to the county planning office could be locked to prevent anyone from entering the rest of the building.
She said various county boards, such as the planning commission and Parks & Recreation, use the double doors to enter the building for evening meetings after the security station in the lobby is closed.
Chief Deputy Tony Link, who is in charge of security, said he had talked with Sheriff Vince Shambaugh and they both were okay with the idea as long as the exit door in the front of the meeting room leading to commission offices is also locked to prevent entry.
After the meeting, Link clarified the sheriff’s position by adding a portable metal detector should be used to screen people before they enter the commission room.
Swaim said he was totally opposed to letting people come to the meetings without going through security.
“As long as we have bailiffs out front, everyone should go through security,” he said.
“Well, I guess what I am saying is that we have such low attendance at these meetings — ” Hutchinson began, but was cut off by Swaim.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” he said. “I think
what it is, is these county commissions are not as important as
what we seem to think they are. People don’t really care. If you go out in the community, most people can’t even name who the county commissioners are, even though they are in the headlines of the paper every week.”
“I am not saying we are important,” Hutchinson said. “What I would like to do is encourage people to come to these meetings. I think it’s not important because of who we are, I think it is important because of the issues we discuss.”
“I understand, but I don’t think that just because people have to walk through security to get back here, it is stopping them,” Swaim said.
“I am letting you know there are plenty of people out there that are complaining about it. I can name some names that you would recognize of people who are not coming to the meetings, and some of them are your buddies,” Hutchinson said.
“I still don’t know what you are talking about,” Swaim said.
“I guess my thought was, as Stacy so eloquently said at the dedication, ‘This is supposed to be the people’s courthouse,’ and I was simply trying to make our meetings as open and as accommodating as our evening board meetings are,” Hutchinson replied.
“Our meetings happen on the evening that security is here until seven o’clock, so why do we have to be different than the rest of the courthouse?” Swaim asked.
“I do consider the business of government and this county to be important and it should be opened to our citizens as much as possible,” Hutchinson said.
“It is. All they have to do is walk through security,” Swaim countered.
Hutchinson asked Link for his opinion.
“I am flexible. I am trying to be as flexible as I can. I don’t think there will be an issue,” Link said.
“As long as there is security here, then they should come through security. If there is not security here, then it is different,” Swaim said.
“I don’t understand your logic, it is flawed. That’s the reason I don’t understand it,” Hutchinson told Swaim.
“Maybe it is flawed, but that’s what it is. I don’t see why you treat one group of people different than another,” Swaim said.
“But you are, you are!” Hutchinson replied.
“I am not going to sit here and argue with you all night. That is the way I feel and that is how it is going to be,” Swaim said.
County resident Jim Dupont proposed a compromise by asking commissioners to try Hutchinson’s suggestion for a couple of months to see if more people attended meetings.
“I think the reason we don’t have the attendance that we did at one point is basically that our hot agenda items are through,” said Commissioner Dugan.
“No, we had people bopping in and out whether or not we had hot agenda items,” Hutchinson said.
“But that was because of the goodies,” Dugan said, referring to the cake and brownies that Hutchinson brought when the meetings were held in the trailer.
It was a light moment and commissioners laughed, easing the tension.
“I think it’s a shame we can’t be more open about people coming to these meetings,” Hutchinson concluded.
She said she would drop the issue if neither commissioner agreed with her.
“I am going to stick with my original position,” Dugan said, indicating she was siding with Swaim.
County Administrator Jody McClintock reported that no bids were received for the planned expansion of the county’s animal kennel.
Dugan gave McClintock a list of four county contractors to contact about the project who have done work in the past for Parks & Recreation.
McClintock announced that State Senator Clark Barnes was to meet the commissioners on Tuesday, October 19 to award a $5,000 grant for the Mountaineer Community Health Center in Paw Paw.