(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
The layout of the front office and judge and clerk magistrate's offices and the hours that the office is open create potential security hazards, County Judge Anne Paine told county commissioners at their weekly meeting Monday morning.
The county court office is on the first floor of the courthouse and, from the courthouse lobby, the main office has doors on the south and west walls. Neither is a keyed or "buzzer" door.
Neither Judge Paine's chambers nor Clerk Magistrate Kathy Jones' office offer a view of the main office and front counter, Paine said, and if the front counter is unattended even momentarily, anyone could walk -- and has walked -- undetected into the inner offices.
The county court office and the probation office stay open until 5 p.m., which is an hour later than the remainder of the courthouse offices. After 4 p.m., probation offices are closed off from the courthouse lobby. County court offices are still open to the entire courthouse and street traffic.
Probation offices have several exits to the outside in addition to the courthouse's main south doors. The only exits from the county court offices are the two doors into the courthouse lobby, Paine said.
Many times, Paine and Jones agreed, people with business in the county court office are angry, stressed, agitated, disgruntled, unstable or desperate. Jones said she believes that people are not inherently bad, but those that they see in county court are often not at their best.
Both probation and Red Willow County's district court have security measures in place to handle individuals who become unruly, Paine said. The district court caseload in 2008 was 193, she said. County court's caseload was 2,772.
Jones said that the sheriff's officers are "great" about responding immediately whenever there's trouble. But remodeling and security efforts may prevent some troubles in the first place.
Paine asked commissioners to consider remodeling to make her office staff less vulnerable. She suggested closing off the west door of their office and installing a roll-top window that can roll up and down and be visible to traffic going into and coming from the courtroom.
The door on the south would become a keyed door with pass key or buzzer entry for staff and/or attorneys.
Commission chairman Earl McNutt told Judge Paine and Jones, "I can certainly see where a situation can turn bad." He said he has no objection to looking into what needs to be done to improve security in not only the county court office, but throughout the courthouse, "to provide all employees with a sense of security."
Sheriff Gene Mahon said that a doorbell-type "panic button" system throughout the courthouse could cost about $10,000. Courthouse maintenance supervisor Greg Holthus said that a keypad-entry door into District Court Judge David Urbom's office cost about $500 in early 2006.
Commissioners Leigh Hoyt and Steve Downer made and seconded a motion to authorize Holthus to check with architects/engineers about the marble walls and frames around county court office doors, and to check into the cost of remodeling with contractors. Mahon will check further into panic buzzer systems for the entire courthouse.