Action on Sullivan County courthouse resolution deferred

J. H. Osborne • Jul 2, 2013 at 11:05 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — A proposal that could ultimately see the historic Sullivan County Courthouse become weapons friendly failed Monday to get the endorsement of the Sullivan County Commission’s Administrative Committee.

Members of the group said they want more information about the resolution, sponsored by Commissioner John Gardner.

In past public discussions of the proposal — which seeks to “give authority and control” of the building to the county commission — Gardner has said the main impetus for the resolution is making clear the Commission’s authority over who cleans and maintains the courthouse.

In May, with relatively little discussion and no prior public discussion at all, the commission voted to yank the county’s “day worker” program from oversight by the county sheriff — and place it instead under Claude Smith, whose title seems to change a lot, at least as described on county commission resolutions.

That “day worker” program provides the labor for cleaning the courthouse and mowing the courthouse lawn.

Commissioner Dwight King sponsored the resolution to make that change back in May — a document that already carried a list of 12 commissioners who had signed off as co-sponsors when it made its public debut.

One of them, Commissioner Baxter Hood, said he’d allowed his name to be among the co-sponsors “without too much thought.”

Now, Hood is the co-sponsor of Gardner’s resolution to seize control of the courthouse — and Hood said Monday that the commission needs to do so to make sure signs banning weapons are removed from the building’s doors.

Hood said the signs need to come down to make commissioners feel safe coming to meetings in the courthouse and to make employees who work in county offices feel safer.

King — sponsor of the May resolution to take the sheriff out of the maintenance part of the equation — said not so fast.

King wanted to know who would provide protection for the commission, office workers and the general public in the courthouse if authority over the building is taken from the sheriff.

Hood said all the commissioners who have gun permits can provide that protection.

Others, however, said they don’t believe the sheriff would quit sending deputies to the building for commission meetings — even if the resolution passes and the signs are taken down.

Those signs, citing state law, went up last year at the direction of Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson.

Gardner’s resolution does not mention the gun issue. But the Times-News asked Gardner if he had the issue in mind when he drafted the proposal.

“This resolution does not make (the historic courthouse, where the county commission meets) a weapons-free zone and it does not make it a weapons-permitted zone,” Gardner said. “But if the resolution is approved, that decision will fall on the county commission.”

In support of the resolution, Gardner also said the historic courthouse isn’t really a courthouse anymore because no judicial proceedings are held in the building.

When the signs went up last year, Anderson told the Times-News he is a longtime supporter of gun rights and of the state’s gun permitting process.

“But there are places where carrying your gun is not appropriate,” Anderson said. “And the county courthouse is one of them. It isn’t just inappropriate, it is prohibited by state law. The bottom line is public safety.”

In fact, Anderson said, Sullivan County’s employee handbook states employees are prohibited from bringing weapons on county property and can be terminated if they do so.

Gardner said he did not know if calling attention to the building’s not being a courthouse would have any negative implications for using courtroom security funding to install or maintain any security measures in the historic courthouse or its offices.

Efforts such as the metal detectors at other court-related buildings have been funded with a fee that state law allows to be collected and spent for court security.

The Administrative Committee deferred action on the resolution. The Commission’s Budget Committee voted “no action” on the proposal last month. The Commission’s Executive Committee endorsed the plan last month.

The issue could come for a vote by the full commission later this month.

Recommended for You