County building security concerns brought up at budget talks

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FORT MADISON – District Judge John Wright, who chairs the Lee County courthouse security committee, put forth a list of recommendations to the Lee County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.

As part of the board’s annual budget review process for the upcoming 2018-2019 fiscal budget year, Wright asked the board to consider putting some of the recommendations into the budget process.

“When it comes to money we understand, number one, budgets are tight and, number two, we need to get into the cycle soon enough so you can make plans to get things done. We have the understanding it won’t be tomorrow that you can do this because you have to budget it, so we would ask that you plan as you can for the next several years,” Wright said.

Wright asked the board to consider putting in 12 windows, three at the North Lee County Courthouse and nine at the South Lee County Courthouse at a cost of about $1,000 each. He asked that the windows be either shatterproof or bullet proof to allow some protection and time for employees in the event of an attack by someone. He also requested card readers be placed on all internal doors, panic buttons be put on lanyards for all employees and eventually fund a security guard for the courthouse and county buildings.

“A couple years ago we had a person walk into the North Lee County Clerk of Court’s office with a cross bow and there was no protection for our employee,” he said. “It can happen in the courthouse in Keokuk or Fort Madison. We need that separation or partition from the people who may want to do our employees harm.”

The North Lee Courthouse has metal doors that employees can manually roll down, but those are to close up the offices at night.

“That is no good for when a bad guy comes in. Our employees can’t say wait a minute while I roll this door down.”

He commended the board on providing the security measures they have to date, but said more needs to be done and said ultimately a live security person would be the best scenario.

“With an officer in the courthouse, it helps quell any situations that might arise,” Wright said. “They’ve helped us keep a gun out of the courtroom. They’ve kept knives and box cutters out of the courtroom. To that end, if you can find it in your budget without cutting the sheriff’s budget to increase our security, we would ask you to do that.”

He said a security person could travel with the treasurer’s office, whether it was open in Keokuk or in Fort Madison. When that person is in South Lee County, that person could cover the first floor offices.

Wright also asked for card readers for the internal doors as well as external doors at the buildings.. The county is currently in the process of putting card readers on most external doors at the courthouses.

A request was also made to have panic buttons, which are in place in sporadic locations throughout the courthouses., purchased for all employees that could be placed on a lanyard that is carried with the employee at all times during the day. Wright said those would cost $149 per button.

“We already have a lot of them, we just need to fill in the gaps. Instead of having them hanging on a hook, we need to have them on the person at all times. That’s a very simple solution to a security concern we have,” he said.

“These are pretty inexpensive solutions. The most expensive would be an actual live person in the courthouses all the time to keep the peace. I understand that this isn’t something you can just pull out your checkbook for, but I do ask that you put these in your budget,” Wright said.


At the end of the day’s budget reviews, board chair Don Hunold asked County Budget Director Cindy Renstrom to put $50,000 into the preliminary county budget to address some of the issues. Supervisor Gary Folluo said the money could come from Iowa Fertilizer Company revenues, but cautioned everyone that all the requests would not be carried out in one year.

Supervisor Matt Pflug said the county has “been kicking this can down the road for years” and said he wouldn’t want anything to happen to any county employee on his watch.

The budget review process took place Monday and Tuesday with a few departments still remaining to present their budgets to the board. The county board takes the budget requests from each department and then formulates a countywide budget based on projected incomes before scheduling a public hearing to approve the 2018-2019 budget.

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