Judge Hartley pulls support from courthouse security plan

District Judge Ted Hartley

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A battle over courthouse security hit an impasse Tuesday when District Judge Teddy Hartley withdrew his offer to contribute to the cost of additional security officers.

Hartley’s change of heart came after the commission voted to move ahead with its security plan, having spent nearly an hour on discussion.

In response to Hartley’s withdrawal of support, commissioners voted to rescind and table the security plan.

Early on in Tuesday’s session, commissioners voted to implement an eight-point security plan at the courthouse with a target date of Sept. 21 for closing all but the south entrance.

The plan would have created a single, county-staffed checkpoint using court security equipment.

As the commission discussed a proposal to add two court security officers, Hartley took exception to the proposal. He said his concern was only one of the officers would be a certified law officer.

Hartley argued it had been agreed the county would give him at least two certified deputies to staff the second floor of the courthouse, saying he was surprised by the proposal.

He also said he thought the county would hire a female part-time officer currently working for the courts.

County Manager Lance Pyle told Hartley the county could not hire the woman — who is married to a sheriff’s deputy — because of the county’s anti-nepotism policy.

The cost of the two additional officers would have been around $95,000 split between the courts, the county and the sheriff’s office.

Pyle said the state would have paid for $23,500 of one of the officer’s salary and benefits. The roughly $6,500 difference between the county’s budget and the state’s share will come from the sheriff’s office budget.

Without the state’s contribution, the county can not afford to pay the salaries and the security plan would not work, Pyle told commissioners, asking them to withdraw the proposal.

“Until those issues are ironed out, we can’t move forward,” Hartley said in response to explanations of the added cost of certified officers.

“We can’t do what you seem to propose today.”

Earlier in the meeting, County Clerk Connie Jo Lyman objected to funneling all courthouse traffic through one secured entrance. She said it amounted to treating her employees like criminals and would cause hardship for courthouse patrons.

“I had no idea my staff would not have access 24-seven, I had no idea that their keys would no longer work,” Lyman said, expressing concern about keyless entry systems proposed for an alternate entrance.

Lyman said she has contacted the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union because she is also concerned the plan might be violating federal voter access laws.

She said she is concerned in particular for the elderly, who may be forced to stand outside in the cold and inclement weather waiting to get through a checkpoint to conduct their business.

“I do not believe that I am doing what the people of Curry County elected me to do if I do not express some concern,” Lyman said.

Lyman’s concerns were echoed by Treasurer Bernice Baker, who said her office sees high traffic, particularly the elderly, during tax season.

And Stephanie Hicks, who works in the clerks office, asked commissioners to consider the difficulty the change would cause employees.

“Please remember without the employees being there, the county cannot run,” she said.

Chairman Frank Blackburn voted against the proposed plan.

“We still need to leave the first floor open to the public and we need to improve the security of the second floor,” he said.

“We’ve got to listen to the people that pay the bills over here.”