Officials: Money holding up courthouse security

File photo Curry County Commissioners are concerned that resolutions have not been followed to restrict access to the Curry County Courthouse. based on security concerns.

Sharna Johnson

Money is the holdup on a nearly two-year-old resolution to secure courthouse entrances, according to Curry County officials.

The issue was discussed openly by Curry County commissioners —for the first time since passing an August 2009 resolution ordering all but one door be closed — during a Monday special meeting held in the commission room at the courthouse.

“We have voted, and it’s still in effect that all doors be closed except for one,” County County Chairman Caleb Chandler said. “And we’re not doing that.”

In August 2009, the commission voted to close all but the south entrance to the courthouse and funnel visitors through a security checkpoint there to search for weapons. The plan was set for implementation to be done by County Manager Lance Pyle within 30 days of the resolution’s passage.

“I still don’t understand why we haven’t moved forward,” Commissioner Dan Stoddard said.

Pyle said when commissioners voted on the resolution, it was done with an understanding the county had cooperative agreement with the courts to receive equipment and money. A month later, when commissioners voted to implement a complementary security plan, district court Judge Teddy Hartley withdrew an offer of support because the plan didn’t meet the court’s needs.

Without Hartley’s support, Pyle said there was no money to complete the project.

“It comes down to budgetary,” Pyle told Stoddard. “There are options with (the New Mexico Finance Authority) … (or) we’re going to have to cut other areas of the budget.”

Chandler said the county’s courthouse security committee has discussed the issue since the resolution was passed, but there was no money set aside to purchase equipment and hire personnel to staff checkpoints. The committee has instructed the county manager, attorney, sheriff and building maintenance manager to research initial and reoccurring costs for securing entrances, he said.

Pricing for the four options is to be presented at an April 19 commission meeting being held for commissioners to hear committee recommendations on jail and courthouse security and space issues.

Chandler said the options being researched are:

• Closing all but one door

• Closing all but a south handicapped-accessible entrance and the front door

• Leaving the south door and front door open to the public, with one additional entrance open for employees

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick asked Pyle to look at the costs for adding a public entrance on the north side of the building, where there is a parking area in an effort to make access more convenient for the public.

Bostwick said he also believed the county should wait to hear the April 19 committee recommendations.

“I would hate to think we’re going forward with a plan when we’re still waiting on those guys,” he said.

Commissioners also discussed jail policies and needs.

A statewide effort by courts to implement a new case management system may also offer opportunity for the county, which has been searching for software to manage the jail’s population.

Bostwick said software options being explored by the county could cost up to $200,000, but there is a chance the county could be selected to test a pilot program that would fuse the systems of the courts, law enforcement and the jail.

The county purchased a software system for the jail in 2010 after an escape attempt by four inmates. Later, officials said it didn’t meet their needs, reverted back to the previous system and got a refund.

Chandler said efforts are also being made with the courts to reduce time it takes to transfer an inmate to state prison after sentencing.

“One of our biggest costs is just not being able to move those prisoners through,” he said, and noted that it’s a common issue statewide.

From December to March 16, Chandler said there were 81 inmate housing days the county provided for inmates waiting on final judgment and sentencing orders to be signed in their cases.

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval expressed frustration and said he doesn’t think the county should take the initiative to move cases through the system faster.

He said when he last checked, 37 of 52 females at the jail were there waiting to go to trial.

“I don’t see where we need to sit on our duffs and say, ‘Well, we’ll wait for the Legislature,’” he said.