Commission split on building security, zoning
During an afternoon of disagreement and opposing views, the Morgan County Commissioners voted 2-1 on two hotly debated issues last Thursday, May 13.
With the split votes, the commissioners agreed to provide security on all three floors of the new courthouse and to accept the zoning study prepared by the County Planning Commission.
In a last ditch effort to persuade the other commissioners to vote against tightened security and weapons checks on the first floor of the courthouse, Commission president Brenda Hutchinson invoked the words of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote: “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”
But when the vote came, Commissioners Stacy Dugan and Tommy Swaim sided with Sheriff Vince Shambaugh and voted for first floor security checks of all those entering the front door.
Before the vote, Hutchinson said the statehouse in Charleston doesn’t have tight security and you can walk in whenever you want.
“Open government is about access, and if we impose limits on that access, how can we say we are an open government?” she asked.
“I think open government is more than having the downstairs open to the public. Listening to the citizens of this county, and I talked to hundreds of people about this exact same issue, and the people I talked to want security on the bottom floor,” Dugan said.
Hutchinson said Dugan must have talked to a different hundred people than she did.
Swaim said he was involved in the original plan for the courthouse and admitted he agreed to just have security for the second and third floors. Since then, he said, he has changed his mind.
“As I go out through the county, I am surprised at the people who say they want the courthouse secured,” Swaim said.
“I am opposed to having security all over the first floor, but if you are going to have it, you have to have it equally for everybody,” Jim Dupont told commissioners.
William Carey, Cindy Largent-Hill and Barbara Tudor also spoke out against first floor security.
Sheriff Shambaugh warned the commissioners not to lose site of the safety issue. He also noted the original plans for the courthouse were drawn up by a previous county commission.
“That was then, this is now. It was a different administration. We have a chance to fix it right now,” Shambaugh said.
“I don’t think it needs fixing,” Hutchinson replied, but in the end, the sheriff’s point of view prevailed.
In the afternoon’s other major decision, commissioners voted 2-1 to accept the zoning study prepared by the Morgan County Planning Commission.
They told planning board president Jack Soronen to proceed with drafting a zoning ordinance for the county.
Swaim cast the dissenting vote.
“I just don’t believe that the majority of people in this county even want to see a zoning package completed,” Swaim said. “I just think it is something that the people haven’t really asked for. That’s why I stand where I stand.”
Soronen explained that a draft zoning study was written by a subcommittee of the planning commission that worked closely with a citizens’ advisory group appointed by county commissioners.
The study was then approved by the planners after taking into consideration public comment and making modifications.
Soronen said state code requires a zoning study and comprehensive plan be completed before a zoning ordinance can be considered.
Soronen praised the efforts of all involved in writing the study, saying: “We made a serious attempt to make this document a way to inform people about the issue of zoning.”
A copy of the study is available at the county commission office and will be placed on the commission’s website.