Installation of security measures continue at government center

Published 8:24 am Thursday, April 26, 2018

Those attending Mower County Board of Commissioner meetings are going to notice a big change in the look of the board room.

What once was an open space is now separated by a low divider, not unlike what you see in courtrooms. In the middle of the divider is a swinging door.

To the right is a new station at which administrative assistant Denise Barthels takes minutes of meetings, as well as where other staff might sit.

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Other additions have yet to come – and one is the most expensive. That is a sound and recording system that replaces an aging and antiquated system.

Other additions will be a presentation table located across from Barthels, for guests. Both the station and presentation areas will have camera systems that will have the ability to scan what is being presented and cast the image onto not only flat screen monitors so the audience can see what is being discussed, but on the Chromebooks that each commissioner and staff will have at the table, according to County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.

“We’ve had trouble for years” with the sound/recording system. “But overall, the biggest cost will be upgrading our technology.”

The changes to the commissioner’s room are just part of an on-going, estimated $150,000 renovation of the government center, primarily for increased security measures, said Oscarson. The rising tide of assaults in schools, public areas and government offices have prompted the work, he said.

Changes have been made in virtually all corners of the building, from bringing in security cameras into offices and hallways, to installing security windows in the offices, he said.

The reasons are clear, he said. Although county officials can take heat from taxpayers that response to the violent incidents is overblown, Oscarson feels safer after the changes were made.

He has heard similar comments from the county workers.

“Some (in the public) don’t realize how volatile” some situations could be in the center, from the Health and Human Services areas, where custody issues might be debated, to someone protesting a tax increase or the result of an inspection. There have been some potentially explosive situations over the years, although nothing serious resulted.

But in an increasingly violent society, he said, the security changes are needed.

That extends to the commissioner’s room. While the room has no security glass between the board and the audience, there is a plan to install a door behind the table through which the commissioners can exit if trouble arises. The door opens to a small room and the door would be dead bolted from that side. Commissioners would stay in the room until help arrived.

“If I had asked for some of these upgrades 30 years ago, I would have been laughed at,” Oscarson said. “It’s a different world. And we have an obligation to protect our people.”

One false alarm a year ago did not yield a problem, but it was instructive. Detectives told Oscarson then that lack of security cameras in the center that day was worrisome. It was a signal that “eyes” were needed in the center not only for what was occurring in real time, but for what they could record as well.

“They are also helpful in cases of liability,” Oscarson said.

Oscarson told of one county employee who was not happy with the security windows — saying they believed it was more difficult for the patron to hear, through the glass.

However, that same employee approached Oscarson some time later, and said how grateful they were for the glass partition, following a near confrontation. A little challenge of hearing doesn’t compare to someone’s safety, he added.

“It’s a wise use of the tax dollar,” Oscarson said.