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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Metro cities taking hard look at security measures

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6 Comments:

Blogger Bob said...

The planning is a response to the fatal City Council shootings in Missouri. Officials seek to balance public access against possible risks.

By KEVIN GILES, Star Tribune

Last update: February 15, 2008 - 9:28 PM

Hugo's Mike Ericson describes the type of worrisome citizen behavior that's given him pause in his long tenure as a city administrator: "Extremely angry to the point of red-faced, shaking, blood vessels popping. They're mad, they're impassioned about something."

In Hugo and other cities across the metro area, city leaders are reviewing security and meeting procedures in reaction to the fatal shootings of five people at a recent City Council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo. They're striking a delicate balance between public safety and free speech as politics becomes more confrontational, budgets get tighter and emotions run higher.

While stopping short of speculating whether such violence could happen at a public meeting in Minnesota, city and county leaders nevertheless are looking hard at how to prevent outbursts that could lead to trouble.

"The shooting was a tragic reminder of what could happen at any time despite the best of plans," said Trudi Moloney, director of council operations for St. Paul. "We continuously are assessing and changing security plans as appropriate."

In Kirkwood, a resident convinced the city was persecuting him killed two police officers, two City Council members and the city's public works director. The gunman, Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, also shot and critically wounded Kirkwood's mayor before being killed by police.

"From my standpoint, that was a hard story to read," said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, who met with other city officials the morning after the shootings to review security.

"People can get very frustrated with the rules they think are silly or petty or whatever," said Harycki, who, like mayors in Oakdale, Edina and many other cities has an electronic button at his chair to summon police in the event of violence. "We're dealing with people's homes, very personal issues to them, and people can get very upset."

That's because people increasingly think their government leaders don't listen to their concerns, said Victoria Hoffbeck, a member of We The People, a taxpayer protest group in Hugo. "People are getting absolutely frustrated that their government is acting outside what they want and they don't know what to do," she said.

Nearly every city in Minnesota has unruly residents and in most cases they're harmless, said Jim Miller, executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. He said he couldn't recall any deaths or serious injuries, but said meetings tend to be more contentious these days because more citizens hold hardened opinions and fewer seem willing to work for the common good.

'Irrational actions'

"People get to the point where they figure they've been treated so unfairly, their view of the situation gets so warped that they take irrational actions," Miller said.

The League advised its members that the Kirkwood tragedy "reminds us that at times our public service as mayors, council members and administrative staff can take on serious overtones."

The advisory, compiled by League research attorney Rachel Carlson, said nobody who is unruly has a right to remain at a public meeting. "Free speech rights do not justify harassing, threatening, abusive or noisy conduct," she wrote.

Most angry confrontations grow from property disputes, said Steve King, city administrator in South St. Paul. For example, some residents bristle when they're told to mow tall grass or that they can't accumulate debris, he said.

"The anti-government sentiment is about as high as it can go," said King, who thinks concern over security and safety in public buildings began in earnest after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. "You just have a sense that people are more prone to act on impulses."
In August, South St. Paul opened a remodeled City Hall and Police Department with significant security changes, King said. Front doors remain unlocked but card readers restrict access to offices, surveillance cameras keep watch, and structural changes in the jail area reduce the threat of inmates getting loose in City Hall.

"Every city has individuals that have kind of a running feud, if you will, or points of contention, and the sad thing is you never know when someone who might be a reasonable individual loses it," said King, who's also worked in Burnsville and Savage. "That's the tradeoff in democracy. If you want to have accessible public officials, there's a degree of risk that can go bad."

Police officers have removed troublemakers from time to time at various City Council meetings in Minnesota, said Tom Grundhoefer, the League's general counsel. He said cities occasionally seek restraining orders against citizens who come to City Hall to "harass or annoy city staff or monopolize city staff on various issues."

The Hugo City Council will review security at its Tuesday meeting, said Ericson, who's also worked for city governments in Maplewood and Woodbury. The discussion in Hugo, he said, comes down to how much security is too much:

"When you're doing the work of the people in the council chambers you'd like to think you don't need a metal detector."

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554

9:25 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Hi All,

I have concerns for the city council and code enforcement officers here in Saint Paul.

It's a hazardous nasty job depriving citizens of their homes and it is only a matter of time as the odds go, before a half crazed nut case who is losing his home go's banana's on a city official.

It has happened in the past..

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd better watch what you say on this one. You also need to know that anonymous is not anonymous. The carrier knows who you are and will turn that information over if this is viewed as a threat to someones safety.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the inspectors brought to justice. It will be the Nurenberg trials all over again. Nazis who acted like sociopaths claiming "I was just following orders".

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:17 AM  

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