by Mike Sharkey
For years the City’s public buildings have been, well, quite public. And, very accessible.
It’ll stay that way until Tuesday morning when visitors entering City Hall, the City Hall Annex or the Yates Building will have to produce a picture ID to a security guard to gain access to the rest of the building. Visitors will be required to sign in and wear a badge.
In the Annex and the Yates Building, a visitor’s pass won’t be required for those needing access to the first floor. That means anyone headed to the tax collector’s office in the Yates Building won’t need a visitor’s pass. But, if the property appraiser’s office (it’s on the second floor) is the destination, identification is required. The building license and permits offices are on the first floor of the Annex and will still be easily accessible. Those headed to any of the 14 other floors will have to get a visitor’s pass.
The security changes can be partly attributed to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the heightened security at public and private buildings and airports nationwide. While the process may be a time-consuming inconvenience to some, the City views it as a way to simply make sure everyone entering a public building and wanting access to City offices has a legitimate reason to be there.
The City’s chief administrator, Sam Mousa, stressed that the new security measures aren’t meant to be taken as a way to keep the public out of public buildings, but rather a way to monitor who is in the building.
“You don’t have to tell us exactly where you are going or what you want,” said Mousa. “You will have to sign in and say which floor you are going to. We never want to keep the public out of these buildings.”
The new security checkpoints will be staffed with current security personnel. Mousa said Bill Watson, chief of public buildings, will have to hire a couple more people to fill out his staff.
“The additional security guards are being reshuffled,” said Mousa. “We already have much of our security guard service, we’ll just shift some schedules.”
While the move is in some measure a response to the events of Sept. 11, Mousa said the terrorist attacks didn’t prompt the additional security at previously unsecured buildings.
“The events of Sept. 11 was maybe the icing on the cake,” explained Mousa. “We have always talked about security at our public buildings. We were worried about the number of guards needed and the inconvenience to the public. When Sept. 11 happened, we sat back and said, how can we handle both [increased security and public access]. There was no thought to doing it sooner. Discussions took place a couple of weeks later, we had to get over the shock. We had to balance the restricted access issues versus the cost.”