September 3, 2009

Council Votes to Contract Out Security for City Hall

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It only took one shoe flying towards Mayor Carolyn Peterson last spring to alert the Common Council that City Hall safety needs more careful attention.
Council members made repeated mention of taking “preventative measures” yesterday as they voted six to one in favor of hiring a security company to guard the entryways to City Hall. In a discussion that was extended into an off-the-record “executive session,” alderpersons debated the merits of contracting out security for a trial period extending until the end of March.
The Ithaca Police Department is currently charged with the responsibility of security for City Hall. However, limitations on the number of officers prompted the IPD to request that a security company take over. The City received one bid from RISCS Incorporated for a rate of $90,000 per year, according to the resolution. Now that the resolution is passed, RISCS will take over on Sept. 21.
“It only takes one incident to totally change the tenor,” alderman J.R. Clairborne (D-2nd Ward) said at the meeting. He added that security measures are “something people are going to have to get used to.”
Part of the resolution said that the “security contract will be for a trial basis until April 9, 2010, with a review and evaluation to be performed between January 1 and March 21 to determine if the security contract will be extended into 2010.”

[img_assist|nid=37801|title=Protective Measures|desc=The Common Council voted last night to contract out City Hall security to a private company.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=231]

Jennifer Dotson (I-1st Ward) was the only council member present to vote against the resolution. While she said she agreed with the need for security measures to protect City Hall — whether against a shoe thrower or more grave dangers — she did not see a private contractor as the right way to proceed.
“If the first thing you encounter when you walk into a city council building is security, that sends the wrong message,” she said.
The resolution, which, as a whole took over an hour of discussion, did not come without further skepticism. Mary Tomlan (D-3rd Ward) voted in favor of the resolution, but noted that privatizing security in City Hall eliminated the welcoming atmosphere of the city’s main government building. She spoke of being a child in her home town, and seeing the city government in a positive light whenever she walked into the town hall. Tomlan expressed concern that this would take away from it. She also noted that having IPD doing security was more welcoming than a private company.
“I hope we will continue to make an effort to welcome people into City Hall,” she said.
Part of the reasoning behind the original efforts to strengthen security in City Hall came from a recent incident in which Robin Palmer ’58 threw a shoe at Mayor Peterson during a Common Council meeting in February to make known his pro-war stance. After the event — which brought the meeting to a halt for over an hour — the city began stationing police at the entrance to City Hall, though Peterson said that this was simply an impetus for what had been a long-running discussion about heightening security.
Maria Coles (D-1st Ward), who introduced the resolution, made mention of a tragedy that recently took place at the City Hall in Schuyler County, citing the growing danger of homicide around the country as a reason to take City Hall security seriously. A shooting that took place in nearby Binghamton’s American Civic Association in April may also have called attention to the issue. Other city hall tragedies around the country, including a fatal shooting in Kirkland, Missouri last year, are bringing attention to the potential dangers in government buildings. Though the “shoe-throwing incident” in Ithaca may have been relatively harmless in comparison, precautionary measures are best, the Council concluded.
“If it was a different person with a different agenda, we would be having another discussion right now,” Clairborne said.