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Supervisors, sheriff to discuss potential terrorist threats

Assistant County Administrator Karen Lewis had no answers last Friday, but the Oct. 14 evening meeting of Westmoreland County’s Board of Supervisors will begin several hours earlier than the evening session’s customary starting time.
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. in order to allocate a 60-minute interval to a closed-door discussion of reports or plans related to the security of any governmental facility.
According to the agenda released on Oct. 9, at 5 p.m. the supervisors will go into “Closed Session with Sheriff C. O. Balderson, et als (by invitation) Pursuant to Virginia Code Section 2.2-3711.A19 RE: Discussion of reports or plans related to the security of any governmental facility.”
A search of Virginia code lends additional insight, but raises multiple questions left open by the agenda item’s language. The referenced Paragraph 19 reads as follows:
“Discussion of plans to protect public safety as it relates to terrorist activity and briefings by staff members, legal counsel, or law-enforcement or emergency service officials concerning actions taken to respond to such activity or a related threat to public safety;
“Or discussion of reports or plans related to the security of any governmental facility, building or structure, or the safety of persons using such facility, building or structure.”
The closed door-discussion comes one month after county government moved its designated meeting place from the G. D. English Building courtrooms to A. T. Johnson auditorium.
The change in location was adopt ed by the Westmoreland supervisors in order to bring the local government into compliance with Virginia Freedom of Information Act requirements.
Residents had been denied video camera access to local government meeting proceedings that were held in facilities it traditionally shared with the Westmoreland courts. The sheriff’s office had determined that the presence of cameras during local government meetings compromised the courts’ security.
When the Supervisors met in the A. T. Johnson auditorium on Sept. 14, Board Chairman Darryl Fisher advised the public that the move would likely hasten Westmoreland’s plans to construct or locate a new building for the local government.
The English Building’s courtrooms had been the supervisors’ preferred local government meeting places due to the convenience provided by their immediate proximity to the local government offices.
As long ago as October 2005, the Westmoreland Supervisors publicly acknowledged local government’s need for additional office space. Construction of either a new county government office complex or a new judicial center already had been listed as a priority in the adopted Capital Improvements Program.
During the same public discussion, officials acknowledged plans to build a new high school. The supervisors reasoned that the existing high school could then be adapted to house county government offices.
In October 2006, the Westmoreland County School Board adopted a resolution stating its intentions to move forward with plans to construct the new high school. The resolution advised that continued maintenance of the old Washington and Lee High School facilities “may be an unwise investment,” that the high school is landlocked and cannot grow and that “plans shall commence” to provide for future needs.
The Public-Private Education Act was cited as the “means to create plans” and get proposals.
After the supervisors’ October 2005 discussion, the board commissioned a space needs assessment whose focus was the judicial center and the county government and local emergency and law enforcement offices.
Wednesday’s 5 p.m. closed session might revisit the space needs assessment, or it might address a new directive from the United States Department of Homeland Security.
Such a directive would result from threats of terrorist attacks.
Another possible consideration would be the supervisors’ security inside the recently designated A. T. Johnson meeting place.
A sheriff’s deputy attended the supervisors’ Sept. 14 meeting, but no metal detectors had been installed on those premises. The supervisors began subjecting their public to metal detectors following the June 29 meeting of the Industrial Development Authority, when residents reportedly became disorderly after raising questions that the authority was unwilling or unable to address.

 

Betsy Ficklin
The Journal
 

 

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