2012-09-13 / News

Wadena Board settles for ‘Band-aid solution’

By Rin Porter
Wadena County reporter

Wadena Commissioners have changed their minds again. After voting on June 26 to proceed with the design phase of the proposed Courthouse Security Addition, they abandoned the idea of the addition at their Sept. 4 meeting.

Now, instead of having workers build the addition to the front of the courthouse, which would have contained a metal detector and housed a bailiff to control entry into the entire building, the commissioners decided to go with the “ Band- aid solution” for court security: a metal detector outside the large courtroom, a part-time bailiff to staff it on court days and a perimeter of metal poles connected with plastic tape to inhibit entry to the courtroom.

Four of the five commissioners spoke in support of what they called “courtroom security, not courthouse security”.

Commissioner Hillukka took no position.

They voted to proceed with the following six actions: (1) move the law library from its present location on the upper level to a new location on the lower level presently occupied by emergency management services and the veterans service office, (2) move the veterans service office to another location, either in the Wensman building or the highway department building, (3) move the emergency management services office into the sheriff’s department space, (4) move the present judge’s chamber to the present law library space, ( 5) enlarge the small courtroom and (6) remodel the existing private restroom adjacent to the judge’s chamber. The possibility of constructing a concrete block security barrier in the current upper level foyer was not included in the commissioners’ motion, but may be added later.

When she realized what the commissioners were about to do on Sept. 4, Judge Sally Robertson asked, “But didn’t you guys pass this unanimously to see what (the security addition) would look like?”

Board Chair Ralph Miller said, “I (don’t) want to be held to something decided at a previous meeting….”

At that previous meeting on June 26, Seventh Judicial District Court Chief Judge Peter Irvine argued strongly against what he termed the “Bandaid solution” of a temporary metal detector and a bailiff outside the courtroom on court days only. Judge Irvine argued for immediate action by the board to protect the safety of county residents who have business at the courthouse and employees who work there. He said “Everybody knows this is a problem and if somebody gets killed while you wait and talk and discuss, Wadena County doesn’t have enough money to resolve that.”

At the June 26 meeting, Commissioner Lane Waldahl made a motion and Commissioner Rodney Bounds seconded, to immediately provide a metal detector and funding to staff it on court days, like Todd County does. The motion passed unanimously. The equipment was purchased and it was installed for its first use on Sept. 4.

The metal detector and bailiff was implemented by Sheriff Mike Carr at the direction of the county board. It was not intended to be a final solution to courthouse security, but would be used while plans for the courthouse security addition got refined. Now the addition will not be built.

Sheriff Carr said in a personal interview on Sept.

4 during a meeting break that according to Minnesota Statutes, the sheriff is responsible only for courtroom security, not for courthouse security. Anything that happens in the courthouse, outside the courtroom, is under the authority of the City of Wadena Police.

This view differs from that in the June 23 issue of Bench and Bar, which reported that “each county is responsible for the actual courthouse building and its security, which includes: equipment, such as metal detectors; personnel, such as sheriff’s deputies to staff any kind of security checkpoint; and training for those personnel.” Waldahl, Miller and

Robertson were all quoted in that article, “ Courthouse Security in Minnesota.”

Judge Sally Robert - son said during the Sept.

4 meeting, “ How effective is it to have just the courtroom cordoned off ? You don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish…”, meaning total courthouse security.

Waldahl responded, “The sheriff’s department would have to add one and a half people for the whole year (to staff the new entry addition). The building is not the cost, but the personnel costs (continue).”

Sheriff Carr said that the additional personnel cost would be about $56,000 per year at the current rates of pay for bailiffs.

The security addition would have cost about

$145,000. The money for the addition is on hand, in the Building Reserve Fund, along with about $500,000 additional. These monies have been earmarked for building repairs.

In addition to the cost estimates for the security addition that he provided on Sept. 4, Architect Tony Stoll of BHH Partners, Perham, also provided estimates for most of the building repairs that need to be done: (1) Window replacement, $209,841, (2) Roof replacement, $163,285, (3) Elevator upgrade, $69,300. Missing from this list is replacement of the courthouse heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, now over 40 years old.

The cost of the remodeling approved by the board on Sept. 4 is about $100,000, if the courtroom security barrier is actually built. If commissioners decide against it, then the cost of the remodeling including law library relocation and the other items mentioned above is estimated at about $62,000.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd, who was not present at the Sept. 4 meeting, has argued strongly for total courthouse security. It was she and Seventh Judicial District Judges Sally Robertson and Jay Carlson who came to the commissioners in 2011, to ask for increased courthouse security, before the shooting of the Cook County Attorney in 2011.

Ladd said, in response to a question about county liability for an assault in the courthouse, “Generally there could be a claim of liability if an assault type of situation occurred. The real inquiry would center on the specific facts of any given incident that were to occur and the liability associated therewith. In other words, if a person entered the courthouse (other than the court room) and had a weapon, used that weapon upon another person inside the building, it is reasonable to say that the county board had notice of such a risk, (but) did nothing to mitigate the risk, thereby increasing their liability exposure.”

She added, “The bottom line on liability always centers on who knew what, when did they know it and what (if anything) did they do about it.”

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