City eyes safety
Missouri shootings spur council security talks locally, nationally
February 17, 2008
Returning from a break during last week’s Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, Councilman Jon Quinn was surprised to find a side door he normally takes into Centennial Hall’s Citizens Meeting Room locked.
The door, along with all of the chamber’s side doors, was locked from the outside that night as part of heightened security measures being considered by the city in response to recent events.
On Feb. 7, Charles Thornton went on a shooting rampage at the beginning of a City Council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo., killing two police officers and three city officials. The very next day, with news of the shooting fresh in everyone’s minds, an incident at Steamboat’s City Hall emphasized security concerns already at the forefront.
“We had an incident at the front desk that made us nervous,” Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said. “(Someone) came in and made a comment that upset our front desk.”
“Every now and then we get an angry constituent in that reminds us everyone’s not happy in the world,” City Clerk Julie Jordan added.
Police are investigating the incident at the front desk, but don’t expect to bring any charges forward.
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City Council President Loui Antonucci said the incidents have put some council members on edge, which is why Public Safety Director J.D. Hays was asked to come to the end of Tuesday’s meeting to discuss possible security upgrades for the council chambers.
It’s a step being taken by local governmental bodies nationwide in Kirkwood’s wake. Routt County officials also plan to discuss security, At a March 18 meeting between the county commissioners, school districts, Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale and other officials, Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said. Hays said the response in government is very similar to the response that occurred in schools nationwide after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
“We have a current plan at the high school, and we practice that four or five times a year,” Hays said. “Prior to Columbine, there was no documented emergency plan at the high school.
“It’s a fact that if people practice what they’re going to do in an emergency, they automatically instinctively do it rather than just throwing their hands up in the air,” he continued. “So (practice) is what I’m going to encourage council to do.”
Other suggested measures include increasing the law enforcement presence at council meetings, requiring people to sign in and even checking people with a metal detector before they enter Centennial Hall. Council members asked Hays to return to them with more detailed options.
“I do think that we probably can’t be as trusting as we used to be,” Councilman Jon Quinn said. “We’re not always going to please everybody. : Probably the biggest thing we all agreed to do was come up with a plan. If somebody stormed in with a gun, I don’t think we’d know where to run.”
No Fort Knox
There is less support among council members, however, when it comes to heightened measures beyond simply being prepared. Many said they don’t want to do anything that would discourage people from attending City Council meetings. Councilman Scott Myller said council members are much safer in Centennial Hall than when they get in their cars to go home.
“Maybe we should just not piss off the constituents,” Myller said.
Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said she would not support a metal detector or taking additional officers away from other duties to be at City Council meetings. She also is skeptical that requiring people to sign in would make any difference.
“I think that people who come into Centennial Hall with murderous intent, that’s not going to faze them at all,” Hermacinski said.
Hays said he thinks security enhancements are warranted, even though there have been few concerning incidents in recent years.
“There’s been a couple of times in the last many years when people have been irate, but nothing that I would call significant,” Hays said.
Both Hays and Steamboat Springs Police Captain Joel Rae would not be specific about security measures currently in place or potential enhancements.
“I think the biggest thing is the confidentiality of the plan itself,” Rae said. “There are steps in place now, but we can always improve. But we’re not looking to turn Centennial Hall into Fort Knox.”