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County commissioners discuss new justice center, security

 

September 6, 2016



A facilities update prompted a discussion at the Linn County Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 30 about the eventual construction of a justice center and a possible increase in security.

General Services is considering what the maximum size of the facility they can potentially put on the property on Jackson Street, which is next to the jail.

“I’ve been assigned to work with the courts and the civil to do an audit,” Russ Williams, Linn County general services director, told the commission.

They’re looking at progressive security options to implement in the current building until they can get a justice center, he said.

Commissioner Roger Nyquist said things have changed in the 80 years since the courthouse was built.

“Society has changed a bit, services have changed, the conflicts, the different things we’re doing on behalf of the public have increased,” Nyquist said.

“We live in a different world today than we did when the courthouse was built.”

He said the Marion, Benton, Lane and Deschutes county courthouses screen the members of the public before they enter a court proceeding.

In all four cases, he said the courts are operating in a different building than the rest of the county services.

In addition to court services, the Linn County Courthouse houses the commissioners’ office, the district attorney’s office and the county clerk’s office, among other services.

Nyquist said he believes it is in the best interest of county government and Linn County citizens to shift to the model followed by neighboring counties.

“The example I give is, not long ago I saw a wedding party coming in to get their marriage license and the bride is dressed and the groom is looking handsome and there’s I don’t know, 12 or 15 people there,” Nyquist said.

“Somehow they had started on the first floor...and there they are, crossing paths with the chain-gang.”

Nyquist was referring to inmates in orange jumpsuits and shackles who were being escorted through the courthouse.

The court’s primary purpose is to execute and administer justice, and other county services are about customer service, he said.

“It thoroughly seems counter-intuitive to the culture of the organization to force a wedding party to be screened and frisked before they come up to get their marriage license,” Nyquist said.

The same is true for someone coming to get a building permit, he added.

Commissioner Will Tucker pointed out that even if the courts are moved to a separate building, those couples may still encounter whatever restrictions are in the courthouse.

“Just make sure we understand, that if they’re coming to get married, when we move the courts, they’re going to go to where the courts are to get married unless one of us becomes a justice of the peace,” Tucker said.

“Not to get hung up on the details, but those are just a couple of examples of the conflicting uses,” Nyquist responded.

“What my concern has been is the extended circle of friends of those clients that are going (to the courtrooms) because when they come in here, they’re mingling with that wedding party that you’re talking about,” said Commissioner John Lindsey.

In a discussion after the meeting, Nyquist said no one has ever been physically threatened, though about six months ago, a woman who was a relative of someone in court had a shank with her in a courtroom. She said she forgot to remove it.

Nyquist estimated that there are between 150 and 200 employees in the courthouse. He has personally heard safety concerns from six to 10 of them.

Between 500 and 1,500 people come through the building in a given day. More people go to the courthouse when property taxes are due and to participate in jury selection.

Nyquist said one of the things he anticipates coming out of the courthouse security meeting is a consensus that it would be good if the sheriff’s office increases its visibility in the courthouse.

“We may very well get a request from the Sheriff and we may need to go through a supplemental budget exercise,” Nyquist said. “I think the Sheriff is working on that. So just a heads-up: That may come before you sooner rather than later.”

If the Sheriff’s Office does submit a supplemental budget, Nyquist said they should involve the budget committee.

“I’d still wait to see if he has room within his budget to pull it off,” Tucker said. “If he doesn’t, then I would concur with you. Even though we have the authority to do it, it would be great to have the committee in.”

Lindsey said he is fine with the expansion of security at the courthouse until they are in a position to build new construction for the courts.

Nyquist said it would be more efficient and reduce costs if the Sheriff’s Office had a court facility next door to the jail.

“I think we all have known in the back of our mind that there would be a day in the future where this may come up,” Nyquist said.

He asked Williams and Linn County Administrative Officer Ralph Wyatt to come up with a game plan.

Wyatt said he would have a report ready within 90 days. The commissioners will examine both long-term and short-term options.

Nyquist is opposed to a bond to pay for the justice center and said he would prefer some other funding mechanism, though he did not specify one during the meeting.

 
 

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