We’ve mentioned before over the years our ongoing irritation at the increasing tendency among government agencies to cordon off more and more areas within their facilities from public access.
This has become a growing trend in recent years, initially undertaken supposedly in the name of “security,” as though members of the taxpaying public are, somehow, a threat to the public employees who ostensibly work for them.
More and more buildings have less and less access to the public.
In many local town and city halls, the public can wait in the lobby until some bureaucrat will decide whether to appear to address the citizen’s concern or allow him or her access to the “restricted” areas of the building where his or her office happens to be.
Frankly, we’ve long suspected that the governmental enthusiasm for much of this “security” is nothing more than a desire by government bureaucrats to avoid public scrutiny.
After all, if members of the public cannot get into places within the public buildings – which, by the way, they’ve paid for – we guess the bureaucrats figure they’re safe from prying eyes who might observe if they’re not actually at their desks, if they’re on personal phone calls, if they’re playing games on their computers or other devices, if they’re arriving late or leaving early, or otherwise squandering time on the public’s dime.
If no one can see someone “at work,” the public simply has to accept on faith that each government employee is doing his or her job conscientiously. Yeah. Right.
The most outrageous recent example of this excess surely has to be the decision by someone – we would suppose it to be county manager Bryan Hagood – to restrict the public from getting to the second floor of the county office building.
A “key card” is now required to access either the elevator or the stairwell to reach the second floor where the commissioners meet.
Until recently, it was only the stairwell that demanded this county-issued, all-access staff card although a key card was necessary to ride the elevator to higher-security areas on the third floor and in the basement. But access to the second floor was not restricted – until now.
The second floor includes, among other things, the commissioners’ meeting room; Hagood’s office; the personnel, finance, and purchasing departments of county government; as well as the county’s legal department.
We are acutely aware that this new security measure immediately followed upon the attempt last week by one of our intrepid reporters to interview Hagood about the rumors of his impending departure for the mountains of North Carolina.
Hagood “wasn’t available” that day to speak to our reporter, but the very next morning the county announced his forthcoming departure (next spring).
That same morning, the new limitations on access to the second floor were implemented.
No signs. No notice. The elevator just stopped working for members of the public and press – i.e., those not within county government and without a key card.
For 47 years since the county’s offices have been located in the building, there hadn’t been a security concern about access to the second floor; we know of no threats, no incidents. There are already metal detectors and sheriff’s deputies stationed at the entrance to the building. But now “security concerns” necessitate restrictions on getting to the second floor. Hmm.
Of course, we notice there’s no restriction on being able to enter that portion of the building where residents must pay their property taxes.
But even more significant than restricting our news staff’s access, it’s probably just a matter of time before this new supposed “security” measure prevents a member of the public from getting into what is supposed to be a public meeting room which ought to be open and accessible when the commissioners are in session at their semi-monthly meetings, thus creating a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law.
We can only imagine the contortions that county officials will go through to argue that they didn’t “mean” to violate the Open Meetings Law when their new policy prevents someone from reaching the meeting room.
We’ll enjoy covering that case, as well.