Limited Access

Security measures at City Hall add restrictive measures that some say are unnecessary.

When it raised taxes and cut services to balance next fiscal year's budget, the Tucson City Council left one program virtually alone: The $2.2 million spent annually to provide security for municipal employees and buildings was hardly touched.

Included in that amount is more than $105,000 to pay for private security guards at City Hall. Controlling the entrance to the building while also patrolling it from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., these guards are part of an evolving process that has greatly restricted public access.

After a feeding station for the homeless was established next to City Hall in the 1980s, confrontations sometimes occurred in the lobby between workers and mentally unstable people. Eventually, a few employees were accosted outside the building, and city officials took steps to increase their safety.

At first this entailed having private guards inside the entrance which continued even after the feeding operation was moved. Later the program was expanded to require the public to present identification to gain access. When James Keene arrived as city manager three years ago, another step was taken which resulted in 25 citizens being placed on a secret blacklist to prevent them from entering the building.

There was, however, no established criteria for what constituted grounds for being on the blacklist. Once its existence became public, the list was quickly revoked and replaced in March with a formal "City Hall Access Policy."

In an interesting twist, the new statement indicates limiting access is being done to protect the public. City Hall "was not designed with a concern for public and staff security needs," it reads, then continues, "the open architecture of the building requires an access policy that allows for the public to conduct their business in a secure environment."

Even with this new policy in place, the gauntlet most citizens must run to enter City Hall has not changed much. They still need to show identification to a guard, obtain a badge and then pass in front of another guard before riding the elevator. Those people who have been placed on the limited access list because of their behavior, however, will either be restricted to the lobby or escorted to where they are going.

One city employee who requested anonymity says all these security measures have gone too far. "We're public servants, so we should be able to talk to people whether they are courteous or not."

City Councilmember Jose Ibarra also isn't a fan of the procedures. Ibarra, who was stopped himself from entering the building a few weeks ago when he forgot his ID badge, considers the security guards a waste of money.

The westside representative believes the city manager and some local elected officials have lost sight of reality and that is why they want the guards.

"They think they're something big in the world," he says, "and are really caught up in the arrogance of the office. But we're just the Mayor and Council of Tucson."

Ibarra also says of the security steps: "I question the paranoia behind this. What is the fear of having people come see you?"

Records from the first six weeks of the new access policy don't point to a lot of problems. In that time, one man caused difficulties in the lobby. According to incident reports, initially he made written and verbal threats--not an unusual occurrence in the world of government. In response, the police said they should be called immediately if he returned to City Hall.

A week later, he did, demanding an appointment to see Mayor Bob Walkup. But it says on the form, "Police say they can't do anything ..." That and a harassing phone caller are the total instances cited since the new policy was put in place.

In that same period, the city spent more than $12,000 on private security.

Pima County government takes another approach to protection. Right across the street from City Hall is its administration building, which has a messy lobby due to construction but doesn't have security guards or limits on public access.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says cases like that reported by the city are not much of a problem. When they do occur, he adds, the person is escorted off the property.

"We believe in being as free and open as possible," Huckelberry states, "while also protecting the employees."

The lack of guards doesn't mean the county building is without security. The county administrator doesn't like to talk about it, but there is surveillance in the building, just not the kind that requires limiting public access.

For his part, Ibarra would like to see the municipal security guards eliminated. He wants to replace them with a person who would simply supply information, a step he thinks might make the public more comfortable in City Hall.

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