Courthouse security--new priority

This is the mock-up of what the courthouse windows will look like when the construction is completed. It is currently on display at the courthouse grounds.

Melissa Freeman
Staff Writer
[email protected]

Months after the Robertson County budget was set, this county, like counties all over the nation, has started to focus on the thorny issue of courthouse security. Except for some strategically placed panic buttons, county government buildings have little to no security, according to County Judge Jan Roe. During Monday’s Commissioners Court meeting, the panel began the process of remedying the situation.
After handling its routine business, including recording higher than usual gains from the County Clerk’s office collecting $43,543.25 and the District Clerk’s office with collections of $11,619.86, the Court clarified a holiday pay issue for County Treasurer Mindy Turner and expedited the travel pay process for law enforcement officers having to leave the state to investigate crimes or extricate offenders.
Next, the panel approved the selling of some Precinct 1 surplus equipment on the SWICO Auction website (other precincts will probably add their surplus material to the sale) and allowed Fiber Light LLC and Byers Engineering to bore tunnels to run Verizon fiber optic cable along Cooper and Windstead Lanes and S. Tidwell Prairie and Yastic Roads. The court also approved the digging of ditches on private property to prevent drainage problems on Cal Davis Rd. in Precinct 2, pending owners’ approval.
Judge Jan Roe swore in Pete Brien to continue his service with the Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation Board, a swearing in that had been delayed until Brien could resign from the Appraisal District Board (citizens are not allowed to serve on more than one sub-political entity, according to Groundwater Board professional officer Alan Day).
Historical courthouse construction manager Jim Hanks reported that decking was being laid, the corner towers were going up, and metal studs were being placed inside the courthouse. The historic jail staircase would be under construction by Wednesday, he said. The commissioners approved a change order that would allow the courthouse gutters to be lined with copper rather than a baser metal for an additional $7,000, a change that would allow for about 10 years longer wear, Hanks said.
The fence company that made the 1880’s front fence was still in business and still made a fence with the same name, Hanks explained, but it did not look the same and the Texas Historical Commission (the grantee with this project) would require the same “look.” The County would have to go with a fence company in Tyler that made a fence that looked more like the original. The mock up, now available for viewing in front of the courthouse, shows residents what they can expect to see in a few months.
The panel spent much of its remaining time discussing courthouse security options for the historic courthouse, the courthouse annex, and the county tax assessor/collector’s office. Roe proposed a system like Brazos County’s with a metal detector at the front entrance, the only one allowing access in Brazos County. Their system cost about $32,000 for detector, shipping and installation and took 3 people to run. Unfortunately, Robertson County would probably need two systems, one for the historic courthouse and another for the Annex, staffed by at least 4 people—two for each door—a male and a female. She said that the Sheriff’s Office and each of the four constable’s offices were willing to provide two people for one day a week a piece—taking care of one metal detector station.
Commissioner Donald Threadgill asked if security guards would be a better option. Roe and Chief Deputy Jerry Stover pointed out that they might be but security guards could not make arrests. Roe said that Sheriff Yezak was preparing a report listing options that he would present at the next court meeting.
For the tax assessor/collector’s office, Roe proposed that the counters be retrofitted with bullet-resistant glass to protect the clerks on the other side. Commissioner Robert Bielamowicz (Pct. 4) stated that none of these measures would have prevented the killings that have recently taken place in Texas and other states while concealed weapons might have. Roe pointed out that county offices were weapons-free (expect for law enforcement) zones. Threadgill agreed with Bielamowicz but added that proposed measures would be effective in the case of people who lost control and tried to shot someone “in the heat of the moment.” The county will take up the question again in its next session. In the meantime, “Be hyper aware,” said Roe.
The court opted not to issue a burn ban, approved a proclamation declaring April “Child Abuse Protective Month,” called a special meeting for the first Monday in May to complete its road inventory (total mileage of county roads per precinct) for TXDOT, and granted Bremond’s Polish Days $3,150 in Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds. Roe explained that she had looked at the regulations and discovered that entertainment costs did fall under HOT regulations when entertainment promoted hotel/motel occupancy.
In the closing minutes of a long session, the Court approved invoices totaling over $600,000--$361,342 in construction costs, and about $260,000 for all other expenses. It declined to purchase newspaper advertising for a Bremond Historical Museum event (celebrating the collection of over 25 oral histories celebrating its Polish heritage), and signed a letter of concurrence allowing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to use a radio frequency very close to the commissioners’ frequency. With all agenda items addressed, the Robertson County Commissioners’ Court adjourned.

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