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Apr 08 - Apr 15, 2014

Security at Niagara County Buildings Worthy of Fort. Knox, the Pentagon

By Craig Tretiak

April 08, 2014

Jeff Glatz to the county: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."


Outside the Niagara County Legislature clerk's office is a plaque emblazoned with the words, "Freedom Shrine." It's surrounded by other plaques, with copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other founding documents.

It is also mere inches from a heavy, locked security door, a video camera, and a machine that reads "ID cards."

In March, 2013, the Buffalo News ran an article about how County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz spent a $200,000 federal homeland security grant to bolster security at county buildings.

Today, thanks to Glatz's efforts, virtually every door to every county building is "protected" by magnetic swipe cards, electronic locks, video cameras, and/or armed sentinels.

The electronic swipe cards are nothing new. For one year, the outside entrances to county buildings were only accessible with a county ID. What is new, however, is a directive from Glatz whereupon ID cards are required in order to exit the buildings.

According to Glatz's directive, "Upon leaving the Court House via" what he calls "Employee Only Doors," each employee's "ID Badge must be swiped through the card reader. If [an employee's] card is not swiped, an alarm will be generated and the Court Security personnel will be required to investigate the alarm."

One former Niagara County Courthouse door, long used by employees, has even been converted to serve as an "Emergency Exit Only."

County government's heavy hand is on display throughout its campus of buildings in downtown Lockport. Once one enters the courthouse, he or she finds heavy doors blocking the access to hallways throughout, including the office of Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin, as well as the one used frequently by Legislature Chairman Bill Ross, R-Wheatfield.

Outside the clerk's office, despite the patriotic reminders of America's unique experience as a beacon of freedom the world (which include replicas of the World War II surrender instruments signed by Japan and Germany), one is greeted by a narrow glass window that allows documents and IDs to be exchanged, overseen by a TV camera and a magnetic card reader.

According to the president of the county's blue-collar union, Bill Rutland, that door cost taxpayers $5,000.

Across the street, in the Philo J. Brooks County Office Building, where Glatz maintains his own office, the few doors that allow access from the outside are all similarly locked down.

Inside, the process is repeated, with a second set of card swipe machines preventing access to most of the offices inside, including the second-floor hallway that houses Glatz's office, as well as the county treasurer's office.

Similar security measures greeted this reporter last Friday when I tried to gain access to the County's Office for the Aging and Social Security complex. So well-guarded was the Aging Office, in fact, that an aged county employee at a desk even stood watch over the door, and asked what business I had with the office.

Next door, at the Board of Elections, access was easier, and downstairs, the Department of Motor Vehicles was actually quite welcoming.

But not so at the county courthouse, where we were unable to access the Public Information Office (despite its name) or the legislature's meeting room. The second floor, home to the grand courtroom often used by County Judge Matt Murphy, was even harder to enter without submitting to screening.

Glatz's office, once open and easily accessible under former County Manager Greg Lewis, who always prided himself in an "open-door" policy, it now is surrounded by a series of walls and doors that funnel every visitor first through his secretary's outer office.

Former County Manager Lewis has taken a different approach in his new job as city manager in Lebanon, N.H. According to the city website, "Unless unavailable due to an appointment, meeting, etc., the City Manager's door is always open."

Upon making a recent tour of some of the county buildings, County Legislator Jason Zona commented that "this is idiotic, especially for the Brooks building, where the county manager and the real estate tax offices are located. The public has the right to see these people. It is making it more difficult to access county officials. This is not a top security place like the Rainbow Bridge or NYPA." Zona proceeded to point out that ever since there was a county, the public could open the door and walk into the offices of the people the public pays to serve them. "The place looks ridiculous," Zona said. "We are not a high security threat and to waste this kind of money for making it difficult for people to get in and out is bad for employee morale. I feel more like I'm going into the county jail than the county building."






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