Council plans changes to City Hall

T.J.+Moore%2C+director+of+public+works%2C+discussed+updating+security+at+City+Hall+during+a+City+Council+meeting+in+February+2014.

T.J. Moore, director of public works, discussed updating security at City Hall during a City Council meeting in February 2014.

Lark Lewis

City Council talked price, safety and convenience when discussing adding security measures to City Hall after the movement of the Police Department during Monday’s meeting.

Council proposed moving the Finance Division and restricting the basement to increase security. The changes would cost more than $35,000.

Finance Division move

On Dec. 9, City Council had brought up moving the Finance Division to the first floor of City Hall, 200 S. Fourth St., which was previously occupied by the Police Department’s investigations division. Because the cost of the move and some cosmetic renovations to the area exceeds $20,000, city manager Anne Marie Gaura must gain approval from City Council to continue with the project.

“I understand the importance of relocating the finance staff to the first floor,” Gaura said.

The primary reason for the rearrangement stems from a desire to improve the safety of city staff and citizens. The elevator and stairs in City Hall are accessible to anyone; with such wide-open access, the city staff is at risk of harm, as are citizens occupying City Hall.

With a minimal number of cameras in the building and an elevator system that has had limited renovations since the building’s opening in 1967, both Gaura and public works director T.J. Moore see room for improvement.

By moving the Finance Division to the first floor, staff would be able to man the elevator and control who goes to what floor.

Theoretically, Moore said, someone could walk into City Hall, use the elevator to go into the basement, which does not have any security cameras or staff, and live there without anyone knowing. Because of this, Moore not only wants to move the Finance Division to the first floor, he wants improvements made to the elevator system.

“What we’re looking to add here is a new call switch to the elevator,” Moore said. “It gives us a lot of latitude on when we allow movement throughout the building and when we don’t.”

The proposed switch would be operated by finance staff and they would be able to call the elevator as they saw fit during the day. For nighttime functions, such as City Council meetings, the elevator could be set to operate much like it does now, with access to the necessary floor.

DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery said the Finance Department should be the first thing citizens meet with at City Hall and it will enhance customer service.

Basement restriction

A second suggested safety provision restricted access to the basement from the elevator.

The basement of City Hall is used only as an emergency operations center, shooting range and to store files.

“A key for the elevator … will allow the basement to be locked out,” Moore said. “It will only allow staff access to the basement.”

The changes will cost about $11,000. The aldermen agreed better safety precautions should be taken in City Hall, but third ward Alderman Kristen Lash had some disagreements with the changes.

“What I’m struggling to find is an $11,000 reason for … the call, especially with elected officials on the second floor. I think there’s public accessibility issues,” Lash said.

Moore said citizens still could always access elected officials, only now there would be a protocol.

“A couple of things have changed,” Gaura said. “No. 1, concealed carry law is now in effect.”

With the change in weapon laws, the security of city staff is now of even higher priority.

Moore, Gaura and Lowery all have seen other city halls that operate this way.

“I’m not aware of any existing city hall in the region that I’ve been in recently where you have free roam to the city staff area,” Gaura said.

Gaura said this project is at least three years out, and the added feature would provide better security for future staff and the building as a whole, even after the remodel.

Lowery said the added security measures in City Hall are necessary.

“I support this move for a variety of reasons. I actually believe there has to be a paradigm shift in how we view service to the community,” Lowery said. “I think it’s time for this facility to be locked down for all our benefits, including the community we serve.”