County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Chief Judge Presents High Court Building Security Recommendation

BOC Approves Union vs. Courts Settlement Agreement



Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – The March 6 meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners Committee of the Whole saw the absence of Commissioners Jeff Haskell and Rickie Fancon. The meeting began with the Board going into closed session under Section 8 (e) to discuss litigation and or settlement strategy in International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America UAW vs. Clare County Courts.

Judge Joshua Farrell remained in the room, and the courts’ attorney was present via internet videocast. Fifty minutes later, the meeting resumed open session, and the Board moved to: Approve the settlement agreement between the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America UAW and the Clare County Courts. Dissenting votes were cast by Commissioners George Gilmore, Jack Kleinhardt and Samantha Pitchford.

The agenda then moved to a presentation by Judge Farrell, who stated he was there to make recommendations for security practices during business hours. Commissioners had been presented with a proposed administrative order which had been adopted by the Michigan Supreme Court as of the previous week in Gladwin County.

He began by recapping where things were previously, saying that beginning with 2001 when the Michigan Supreme Court entered an administrative order providing for greater safety at court facilities and at blended use facilities.

“Since that time, there have been a number of enhancements to security in this building,” Farrell said. “And I think this Board and previous Board – and those that have worked on these projects over the many years – should be congratulated for the steps that they have taken. For many years … Clare has paved and led the way for courthouse security.”

He went on to list previous discussions and different steps taken over the years, from when the Clare County Building had been a facility with five open doors, no tinted windows, no scanning an presence at the front door, and no alarms.

“And, so, over the years we’ve made consistent progress with our security enhancements,” he said. “When I was chief judge the last time, I asked the Michigan Supreme Court to come in and provide a security audit for both buildings – some public, some private – so that we knew where we stood, good and bad.”

He said that both counties did not perform very well at all, those eight or nine years ago.

“And they provided a very, very lengthy audit of what we need to do to make our facilities better,” Farrell said. “We took that information, and as I mentioned, Clare County made significant improvements. We’ve locked down all of the doorways except the main/south entrance. We have tinted windows to make security viewing better; we have some additional tinting coming along. We’ve alarmed doors. We have a very, very good staff of officers, an emergency manager. We have devices and a presence at the front door – which is always key.”

He noted that a presence at the front door turns away something in the neighborhood of 95% of the danger level.

Farrell noted that Gladwin had lagged behind, and was without a front door security presence or scanning devices. He said that when he became Chief Judge again on Jan. 1, 2024, he scheduled a meeting with the sheriff and undersheriff.

“I said for 23 years, we’ve found reasons not to secure this building, and not to make safety for our employees and visitors a priority,” he said. “I’m here to ask what do we need to do to make it work? In the last three to four weeks in Gladwin County we have gone from no presence to ARPA funds requests being approved, and unanimous support by the Board.”

 He said there are now five court security officers where there typically had been three to four part-timers. Also of note was that the insurance funding would cover up to 50% of the expense. He said the first step would be money, second personnel, and third equipment.

“We found the money, consolidated some savings that we provided to Clare County with some consolidation of staffing in District Court,” Farrell said. “Gladwin County redid some staffing in their building, and we presented a $53,000-$65,000 savings because all the Board members said ‘What’s this going to cost us,’ and we said ‘Good news, it’s going to save you.”

He said the funding was found, as well as the personnel, and there is now a state-of-the-art 39-zone thermal scanner, lockers and stanchions and different signage in place in Gladwin County. The intention was to go live with that equipment within the next two to five days.

Farrell then explained that he had spoken with [Clare County] courthouse security and the administrator, describing what had been done in Gladwin, informing that he wanted to present it to the Clare County BOC so its members could make a decision on how they wished to proceed. He said that where Clare had been the leader for the previous 23 years, as of the next Monday its efforts would be surpassed by Gladwin County.

He was quick to say that was not due to Clare County’s staffing, but because Gladwin County would have all its entrances locked down, have their thermal scanner as well, and that every person entering the building will be subject to scanning. That, he said, includes delivery persons, employees.

“The only carved-out exceptions under the Michigan Supreme Court are judicial officers, prosecutors, quasi-judicial administrators such as Friend of the Court and magistrates, not be subject to that same entrance procedure,” Farrell said. “And it’s not just because these employees or elected officials are better than anyone else. It has to do with the danger component, yes, but more importantly, simple conversations between those people interacting with them at the door can ruin [taint] an entire case.”

It was noted later in the meeting that a currently licensed private investigator with an exempt CPL acting within their official capacity also would not have to go through the scanner.

Farrell summed up saying that what he was presenting for commissioners to make a decision on – based on the Supreme Court directive – was whether or not they wanted to continue to enhance security measures.

“As we know, the threat can come internally, and the threat can come externally,” he said. “I’d like to say that we will never face any risks from our employees, and I’m not suggesting that any of our employees are bad individuals. Employees, like visitors, have bad days. They have bad family situations, stressful situations, financial situations.”

Farrell said he’s taken a look at this over the years, and that it comes down to whether or not to have the minimal inconvenience of walking through a state-of-the-art device.

He then noted that with the help of Emergency Management, Brent Chinery and Lori Phelps, that Clare County now has its own state-of-the-art device as well.

“The machine is amazing,” Farrell said. “So, the question is do we continue the current process and only make visitors go through the scanning, or do we do what Gladwin has chosen to do and lock the facility down and have everybody go through the main scanner when they arrive? My recommendation is to follow the Supreme Court’s guidance and make the exceptions for the judicial, quasi-judicial officials, and to require our employees to go through the scanning device, as well as delivery individuals and anyone else that may enter the premises.”

Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt spoke then, noting the differences of opinion when scanning was first introduced in Clare County, which started as court visitors only, and then expanded to all visitors to the building. That, he said, has seemed to work out all right. He also spoke of going up to Roscommon to the Northern Michigan MAC, and being required to take off shoes, belt, any possible triggering metal, and despite complying that he always triggers the machine.

Farrell said he had excellent news for Kleinhardt, because the new device at Clare County is so state-of-the-art that nobody will be asked to remove shoes.

“I invite all of you to go through this device,” he said. “Not only does it detect, it zones. The person will be asked to walk through. If positive, they can self-identify items and go back through it a second time. Both counties also received devices called Super Wands which are highly sensitive. We identify medical situations: defibrillators, pace makers; individuals with disabilities are not required to go through the scanning device. We’re not asking people to remove their clothing; we’ve not instituted any type of touching or pat-down procedure as well.”

Farrell went on to say the scanner that was just replaced was 35 years old, with no replacement parts available. He went on to describe its effectiveness, despite its age.

“Just in the last 30 days, we’ve had firearms, knives,” he said. “Just in Gladwin … we had an individual try to bring a firearm in the building last Friday; two knives were found on an individual – straight blades – in the courtroom. We had an individual attempt to bring a knife through here last week, so with the efforts of security that’s been detected.”

He noted that the Clare lobby is about 10 times larger than the Gladwin lobby, which allows for directing good traffic flow, and reiterated that the new device makes for a very quick process. Farrell said it is his recommendation that employees be scanned as well as visitors.

Administrator Lori Phelps added that she is proud of how far the county has come with its security, adding that the building is locked down and has been for a long time, with only one point of entry with exception for employees in a couple of areas. She said she believes that Clare County is pretty secure, and that a lot of changes had been made.

Farrell agreed, and offered congratulations to everyone who has been involved over the years, because appropriate steps have been made. He restated that as of Friday, only one entrance would be open in Gladwin County and all visitors, employees and deliveries would go through the same entrance.

“That’s to prevent an undetected risk that may exist within the building,” he said. “I’m here to simply present that recommendation to you.”

When asked about employees who don’t necessarily work only within the regular building hours, Farrell said the County could make any exceptions it believed appropriate. He said a department head has the authority to access the premises outside of stated building hours, and can be exempted out of the policy. His recommendation is that anyone entering during business hours be required to go through the scanner.

He went on to offer the example that the BOC conducts highly contentious meetings with past and present employees, and members of the public. For demonstration purposes, Farrell then pulled out his cell phone and plopped it on the table.

“If I’m an employee of this building, and this is a gun, you’re all at risk right now,” he said. “So, if you have a highly contentious meeting, I’ve just walked in as an employee with a firearm that nobody knew about. So, all of you are at risk, everybody in the building is at risk.

“That’s a little more dramatic than it needs to be, but if you say, ‘Why should we or Why shouldn’t we?’ – I would counter with ‘Why shouldn’t we scan our employees?’”

Farrell went on to describe recent incidents of weapons in the building and in court, adding that in the first week the original scanner was active at Clare County some 91 items of contraband detected.

“We’d like to believe that nothing from within is a threat,” he said. “But it’s manageable risk, it’s minimal inconvenience. I’m not here to banter or argue, I’m simply here to make a recommendation, but if the county administrator or emergency manager want to carve out exceptions for individuals, that’s certainly fine after hours. But during business hours, that’s my recommendation.”

Commissioner Kleinhardt spoke then to note news reports citing the anger among the public and between politicians, that he said is being stirred by media, both news and social.

“They basically said you can expect something to happen,” he said. “What it is, nobody knows – maybe it won’t. But people are different than back when [we] discussed this a few years ago. It’s a different world we live in; is it going to get better? The chances of getting worse are probable. Could somebody, an employee come in here and do something? You know they get mad too. It just saddens me that we’ve got to this state.”

Farrell agreed, adding that in the courts it is said, other than for adoptions, nobody enters the Clare County Building with good intentions.

“They’re having their kids taken away,” he said. “They’re coming to court, they’re going to jail, they’re paying their taxes, they’re paying for fees at the Register of Deeds. It’s just the unfortunate part of things at this point.”

He added that, although there is no wish to unnecessarily inconvenience employees, he believes that within two weeks, the scanning requirement will be just another part in the process of going to work.

Emergency Manager Jerry Becker voiced the opinion that areas of the policy need to be “massaged” by the Courthouse Security Committee – which is vested with the authority to do that. Becker said he had recently presented some I.D. ideas to better identify employees, and that he would like to see both taken to the Security Committee for review. It was noted that the next Security Committee meeting would be the April quarterly meeting, and Phelps said that thereafter the issue would be brought back to the Committee of the Whole.

Other items briefly discussed which will be brought forward to the regular Board of Commissioners meeting included the reappointment of a Jury Board member; the disposition of a County-owned property in Redding Township; and four millage renewal proposals.

© Clare County Cleaver


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