By John Holler
For those who are regular visitors to the Wright County Courthouse, they’ve noticed a significant difference when they enter the building. After months of debate, largely at the behest of Commissioner Charlie Borrell, the metal detectors at the two main entrances to the courthouse have been removed and residents entering the courthouse no longer have to walk through them unless they’re in the courts area. But, at the Oct. 1 meeting of the Wright County Board, Borrell learned that he was won the metal detector battle, but the war rages on.
Borrell said he has been surprised by the level of opposition he has received from some county employees, terming the process of getting the metal detectors moved by saying, “it hasn’t been trademark legislation.” However, he has remained firm in his opposition to over-securing the courthouse.
“I don’t know what I expected in terms of opposition, but I got it,” Borrell said. “I haven’t received a single complaint from one citizen outside the courthouse. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. People have thanked me for standing up on this and getting the metal detectors moved. I was something I heard a lot of complaints about during my campaign for the commissioner in my district and I’m still strongly against adding more security measures in the courthouse other than what the state requires we do.”
The opposition to the moving of the metal detectors was voiced at the Sept. 25 building committee, where County Attorney Tom Kelly read a statement expressing the concerns of his staff. While Borrell has focused on those who come to the courthouse to get driver’s license, vehicle tabs or land documents from the county, his office deals with people who occasionally have an axe to grind. By the nature of the office, the county attorney staff convicts people of crimes and they deal with a portion of the public people in planning and zoning, the auditor/treasurer or the license bureau don’t deal with.
“Whether you agree with me or not, my office and court services deal with a ‘different’ segment of the population – not the segment that the board refers to when speaking of customer service,” Kelly said. “It’s one thing to come the Government Center to renew your driver’s license or to ask for a CUP (Conditional Use Permit) application or you need to record something. It’s another thing when you are coming to the Government Center because we’re prosecuting you for domestic assault, felony assaults, criminal sexual conduct, robbery, kidnappings, terroristic threats or felony drug cases. You might not want to believe this, but those people being charged aren’t the happiest of campers.”
At question at the building committee meeting was to look at options for providing increased security on the fourth floor, where the county attorney and court services departments are housed. Among the requests being made are to install security lockers for clients’ belongings, installing bullet-proof glass at public entrances to the offices and installing panic buttons to alert the sheriff’s department and/or Buffalo Police Department in the case of an emergency.
Kelly said that the threats his staff have received are real and legitimate and that by taking the metal detectors away from the courthouse entrances has greatly reduced the sense of the assurance of security that employees in his department and court services used to enjoy.
“Whether you agree with me or not, you can’t separate my office from the criminal process,” Kelly said. “I and other attorneys in my office have been subjected to threat. We have changed prosecutors in some circumstances to diffuse the situation.”
The recommendation of the building committee was to seek price quotes on the costs surrounding potentially installing secure lockers, bullet-proof glass and panic buttons. While Borrell doesn’t have problems with the lockers or panic buttons, he said he will continue to fight against adding bullet-proof glass and creating a police state in the courthouse.
“I told (Court Services Director) Mike MacMillan that I would take away the Plexiglas they have there now,” Borrell said. “I just think we don’t need to overreact to a potential attack that likely will never come. The rest of the board may well determine that we need some of these security measures and I’ll go along with that if that is what they decide. But I think this is a personal freedom issue. I’m glad we got the metal detectors moved and don’t think we need to provide piecemeal security for one or two departments. It will open up a can or worms that will be both costly and unnecessary. Mark my words, if we approve this, it won’t be long until other departments start making similar requests. Where will it stop if we open that can of worms?”