DA questions lack of action on closing courthouse entrances

Sharna Johnson

District Attorney Matt Chandler is questioning why an almost 2-year-old resolution to close Curry County courthouse entrances for security reasons hasn’t been implemented.

Through a public record request, the Clovis News Journal obtained a series of emails exchanged recently between Chandler and County Manager Lance Pyle.

In the emails, Chandler asks why the county hasn’t implemented the August 2009 resolution that would close all but the south entrance of the courthouse, creating one security checkpoint.

Though the resolution still stands, it has not been implemented or discussed in commission meetings since.

Saturday, Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said while Pyle hasn’t been told not to implement the change, lack of money has held up the project.

Pyle did not respond to a call seeking comment about the emails.

The emails were exchanged March 17, after Pyle’s administrative assistant staff sent Matt Chandler an email entitled “Old Post Office Building Usage.”

Attached to the email was a file containing the treasurer, assessor and clerk’s opinions on the security plan and their thoughts on use of the county-owned postal building at 417 Gidding St.

The district attorney’s office is a tenant occupying the top floor.

In the attachment, the three elected officials said they believed the district attorney’s office should be moved back to the courthouse and county administrative offices moved to the Gidding Street building.

Forwarding the email to Pyle, Matt Chandler expressed confusion as to why the closure of entrances at the courthouse had not already taken place.

“… With regard to the security of the courthouse, it still amazes me that this is open for discussion after the elected commissioners voted to go to one secured entrance/exit … and passed a resolution in 2009 that has still not been (implemented),” he wrote.

Matt Chandler also offered to gather letters from his staff, since it “would be only fair,” as they are “in the arena of potential attack on a daily basis.”

Pyle responded by saying he was not forming recommendations, but only gathering information for the Courthouse Security and Citizens’ Committees.

Pyle wrote the committee was “looking at options to assess the infrastructure needs of each facility individually, find solutions and means of financing,” and it would make recommendations to the commission April 19.

Saturday, Matt Chandler said Pyle never responded to him regarding the status of the resolution.

County and court officials have long cited security concerns at the courthouse, including multiple unsecured entrances with a blending of the public with court defendants, witnesses, jurors and court personnel.

Matt Chandler said the district attorney’s office has been asking for increased courthouse security measures since 2005.

“We recognize and respect the argument of the inconvenience of walking to the south side of the courthouse to enter,” he said, “but in our opinion it’s a small sacrifice to increase the safety of the public and those that serve in our judicial system.

“Closing down all but one entrance and setting up a security team to screen visitors doesn’t guarantee the safety of all those inside, but it certainly enhances it.”

Matt Chandler said in 2009, his office offered to contribute federal grant money to the project after being told it would cost the county $20,000 to create the single checkpoint.

Caleb Chandler, who is also Matt Chandler’s father, was contacted by telephone Saturday. He said the commission hasn’t formally addressed the issue since passing the resolution.

Caleb Chandler said the commission never rescinded the resolution, nor did it instruct the county manager not to implement the plan.

“As far as I know he hasn’t been instructed not to do it, but there’s not a budget to do it at this time, so in order to go forward there would have to be some additional money added to the budget to implement (it),” he said.

Caleb Chandler said lacking a budget for the plan, the commission felt it prudent to await the outcome of a bond election last November to finance a new courthouse and jail.

After voters defeated the two questions intended to raise $32 million, Caleb Chandler said the courthouse security committee directed Pyle to find out how much the equipment and personnel would cost to secure the building so it could be budgeted.

“It’s my opinion that we have to do it; we can’t wait any longer,” Caleb Chandler said. “Regardless of what happened with the courthouse at this point, we still have to go forward and secure the courthouse. I think everyone would agree that the security system we have now is not adequate … it’s just a matter of how the commission wants to do it.”