BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
County officials have different views on how best to address security concerns stemming from the August 2014 report on the status of security at the Charlevoix County Building that include fencing and video monitoring.
As a result, the Charlevoix County Board recently discussed resolutions to spend $17,595.37 on fencing and $3,075 in video recording equipment.
“This recommendation came out of buildings and grounds (committee),” said Charlevoix County Administrator and Human Resources Director Kevin Shepard. “It’s needed. It came out of the report that the state agent came up … and did for us. It basically secures the judges’ entrance over here and the transports when they’re bringing prisoners over. Basically, it separates the mass public from this little section back in here.”
The 16-foot-wide by six-foot-tall VPL lift gate would cordon off the small parking lot (pictured) between the Charlevoix County Clerk’s Office and the Charlevoix County Circuit courtrooms and offices.
“It’s needed. I’m not arguing that it doesn’t need to be there,” said Shepard. “I am hedging a little bit on the cost of it, only because I feel that $17-$18,000 could be better spent in securing the rest of the building for more people than less people back here.”
The bid for the fencing came from Harbor Fence Company of Petoskey.
It included the $17,595 aluminum fence option and a $14,097 chain link fence option.
“I’m just worried that we’re not going to get the maximum benefit to our dollars spent, basically, on a gate,” Shepard said. “Again, I’m not saying that it’s not needed. But, I just think that there’s other ways we can more efficiently spend our money.”
According to Shepard, the county’s camera system is out-of-date.
“Our camera system’s 10 years old,” he said, adding that limping the current system along will be costly and inefficient in the long run.
Commissioners considered a resolution to purchase two Openeye 16-channel 1-TB digital video recorders and six video transceivers.
The new equipment would allow more cameras to be added to it as needed in the future but this move merely enhances the current system and does not replace it.
Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4) said he spoke to a county maintenance official who said he could install fencing up to where the gate would be located and then purchase a gate when the county was in the position to do so.
“We’re talking about taxpayers’ money and we do the very best we can, spend it where we should, and for the security of the building and so on,” Evans said. “I’m sure it’s a coming thing that we’ll eventually probably do but, as of right now, my feeling would be to table that.”
Charlevoix County Clerk and Fiscal Officer Cherie Browe disagreed.
“We have been working on building security for many many years and it’s gotten nowhere,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve had you reserve money for capital improvements so we can take care of these kind of things.”
Browe added, “If you want to postpone it, that’s fine. Personally, I see no reason because, every time you postpone, we’re going backwards in time. We’ve been doing that for the last 10 or 15 years as is.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Nancy Ferguson (R-District 5) asked if the fence and camera system were an either-or proposition.
“I think it should move forward. I think it’s time to do it,” Ferguson said, adding that the area where prisoners are brought in-and-out of the county building, and where judges who rule on some serious cases enter and exit their cars, should be a secure one.
Browe said district court has offered to pay for a secure door entry system if the board of commissioners pays for the fence and gate to be installed.
“Again, then, you’re securing that one judge for this project whereas our camera system is 10 years old,” Shepard said.
Browe responded, “I don’t see why we can’t do both.”
Ferguson echoed Browe’s statement.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Shirley Roloff (R-District 6) said she agreed with Shepard that the money should be used to secure the largest portion of the county that it can.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Ron Reinhardt (R-District 3) said, in his experience, electronic gates can have operating issues.
“They have problems. We need to find out what kind of warranty? How good is this gate? How good is the mechanism?” he said. “It also says that the $17,595 is not going to be the end of it because you have all the wiring that has to be done from a licensed electrician on top of that.”
Shepard said the county had trouble getting a quote for the fence and gate—with the one it received being the only quote it got.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) said the county could go with the lower cost fence and gate option and still have enough money to upgrade the camera system.
“I guess my frustration is I’ve been on a committee for building security since 2003—nothing has been done until this year,” said Browe. “And, I just feel like, if we keep postponing stuff it’s just never gonna get done.”
The cheaper version of the fence comes topped with barbed wire, which several officials thought would help act as a deterrent to ne’er-do-wells.
“We’ve been working on this for 10 years. And, I assume, each year the cost of living has increased and the price of this fence has increased,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner George T. Lasater. (R-District 1) “So, I think it’s time to move forward.”
The resolution to purchase the fence and gate at a cost of $17,595.37 (plus the fees to have the electrical hooked up) was approved by a vote of 4-2.
Roloff and Christensen voted “no.”
The resolution to purchase the additional video surveillance equipment was then discussed in more detail.
Shepard said the system is at capacity right now and will need to be replaced at a cost of $25,000 to $30,000 at some point in the future.
Charlevoix County Sheriff W. Don Schneider said the county building currently has 16 cameras and more are needed.
“[W]ill they (cameras) stop something from happening? Probably not. However, it’s needed that, if something does happen, that we can see what happened and go after the right individual to prosecute, if that’s the case,” he said.
“My biggest concerns are not so much the inside security as it is the people coming out and to and from the parking lot.”
Schneider added, “It’s not unusual for us to have our bailiff walk people out to the parking lot after they’ve been in court because it’s been contentious.
So, we need to have that camera system grow and we need to have that camera system record.”
Schneider discussed a couple areas where he needs cameras where they are currently not located.
Reinhardt asked if there is enough money for a new camera system in addition to the gate. Browe said there is.
Reinhardt said he would rather just get a new system than try to cobble the old system along.
The number and type of people who have access to the camera system was then discussed.
Both Reinhardt and Christensen said they want to make sure that not just anyone in the county building can look at the video.
Reinhardt also expressed concern that, with more cameras, the need to hire someone to sit and watch the video feeds all day will be necessary.
Schneider said it would be helpful to have such a person monitoring the video but there was no further discussion on it.
Commissioners then decided to table the resolution for $3,000 in camera equipment and decided to move forward on looking into getting a complete new system.