Coryell County officials discuss courthouse security
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Coryell County Commissioners discussed the need to improve security at the Coryell County Courthouse at their second meeting of the month Monday morning.
After the most recent capital murder trial, which finished the first week of November, the issue of people entering the courthouse and going through security in a timely manner came up, according to County Judge John Firth.
Firth explained that he placed this item on the agenda to discuss and come up with a solution before the next FY 2019 budget consideration. The Commissioners’ Court has touched on the topic of upgrading security several times before but the cost of doing so got in the way. The current budget for security equipment is $6,000, whereas the proposed metal detector equipment would cost $11,00 per unit..
Precinct 2 Commissioner Daren Moore suggested an idea that he saw implemented in the Navarro County Courthouse, where entry and exit were limited to the basement door. If the goal is to minimize the cost while still having personnel man the entrance and exit, it would make more sense to have one exit rather than multiples, Moore said.
The problem with this idea would be that people would have to use the elevator, which is notoriously slow, so as to avoid foot traffic going through the district clerk’s office, according to District Attorney Dusty Boyd.
District Clerk Janice Gray pointed out that having just one entrance would be a struggle, especially with the slow moving elevator, when it came to jury day, where as many as 150 people show up. Often times, people choose to use the stairs anyways after seeing how slow the elevator is, Gray added.
Gatesville resident Roger Miller shared his concerns over the direction of the discussion, mentioning a facility usage study that was conducted in 2013 that resulted in the recommendation for the county to conduct an independent security assessment for the courthouse. The Marshall service, who conducted an independent study, recommended measures which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, according to Firth.
Miller asked if the commissioners were putting a price tag on the security of the elected officials in the judicial system, adding that he thought steps should be taken to implement those recommendations incrementally.
“If we’re going to in one or two quick sessions get together and huddle and say this is the plan and we’re going to commit several tens of thousands of dollars to this, I think it is probably cutting the people short and is putting a Band-Aid on an overall larger problem that should be addressed,” Miller said.
Firth explained that the item on the agenda was not to come up with a solution immediately but rather to come up with a strategy. Firth asked whether it would make more sense to put the money into a new building that could more easily be secured rather than a security upgrade. He added that it didn’t matter which county government office it was, there would be a need for security.
“You could dream up a requirement to secure every single county employee in this county government, so where do you stop in terms of how much do you pay for securing X functions or Y functions or all functions?” Firth asked. “And we’ve never been able to come to terms with that because there’s nowhere near enough money to come to terms with that.”
Boyd recommended, and the commissioners approved, a motion that a committee comprised of himself, County Attorney Brandon Belt, the judges who operate in the court, District Clerk Janice Gray, Commissioners Daren Moore and Kyle Matthews and representatives from the Sheriff’s Department and the Probation Offices, be formed to evaluate what would need to be done to improve the security and give operational input to the Commissioners’ Court.
The commissioners also approved keeping the burn ban lifted for another two weeks due to the weather conditions and the chance of more rain in the forecast.
The commissioners approved an interlocal agreement between Central Counties Center for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services (MHMR) and Coryell County for the Mental Health Deputy Program which authorizes the Coryell County Sheriff’s Department to maintain five mental health deputies, including Sgt. Eric Fox.
Firth said that the goal of this agreement is to keep money flowing from Washington, D.C. to Austin and to the county to fund this program, which has made a huge difference in the county.
Fox explained that just since Oct. 1, 2017, the Mental Health Deputies have saved the county around $380,000 by responding to at least 911 calls, with 355 diversion cases where they did not take people to jail. They have had more calls since October of this year than all of October- January of the previous year, reaching nearly 100 calls of service since the beginning of October. Of those calls, 94 percent were all different callers, meaning that the number of repeat callers is slim, Fox said.
The commissioners approved the preliminary plat for the Anointed Acres subdivision on Moccasin Bend Rd, approving deviations from subdivision regulations to include a 26-foot road width instead of the 28-foot that is in the regulations, and a turning radius of 50-feet in the cul-de-sac, instead of the subdivision regulations’ 60 feet. Because of the approval of the deviations, the commissioners also agreed that they would need to look over and see about changing their subdivision regulations to make it fair to other subdivision developers.
The commissioners also approved a notice to bid for demolition, clearing and cleaning of the county property located at 710 E. Leon St in Gatesville, with the bid start date of December 2, 2017 and a closing date of January 5, 2018 and selection by January 8, 2018.