The new system will be foolproof if it's used right, a common pleas judge said.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The number of people going in and out of the Mahoning County Courthouse has dropped dramatically the past two weeks, which pleases county commissioners and judges.
The problem was not during business hours, but with people coming and going after the building closes in the evening and on weekends.
"We knew too many people were getting in too often," said Judge James C. Evans of common pleas court. "We had to do something to restrict it."
Too many officeholders had given employees "blanket authority" to use the building for work purposes after hours, the judge said.
A new card-swipe security system is being installed to control who gets into the building, and when. Installation should be finished this week, said Richard Malagisi, facilities manager.
The same system is in place at the administration building next to the courthouse and will be installed at the South Side Annex on Market Street.
How it works: During business hours, entrance and exit is limited to the front doors off Market Street. Only a handful of key officials and employees will be able to use their access cards to enter through a back door.
With the old system, too many people were coming into the building through the back door, Malagisi and Judge Evans said. Some employees who had access cards would open the door and let other employees into the building, bypassing a front-door security checkpoint.
Nearly all who had 24-hour back-door access before have lost it with the new system, Malagisi said.
All elected officials, security staff, maintenance workers and two or three key employees from each office are all who will be granted unrestricted access to the building.
Others who want after-hours access must apply for it and be screened by a committee of judges, Malagisi and deputy sheriffs. If they are granted access, it will be restricted to certain doors and could be limited to certain hours, Malagisi said.
Some are miffed: The change has miffed some employees who had used the back door, but county Administrator Gary Kubic said they'll have to get used to it.
"Security brings with it some inconvenience," Kubic said.
When a card is swiped, the user's picture will appear on a television monitor being checked by a courthouse deputy. A surveillance camera at the door will also show a side-by-side picture of who's at the door, so deputies can ensure that the proper person is using the card.
Judges and commissioners are mulling whether a deputy will be assigned to the building round the clock to monitor the system and ensure that cards aren't being used by unauthorized employees for after-hours access.
If a cardholder uses a card to get into the building, he must also use it to get out, the judge said. Otherwise, the system won't let him in when he returns because it will still have him registered as already in the building.
"It seems rather foolproof if the system is maximized," Judge Evans said. "I think it will work."
Security upgrade: Malagisi said the card-swipe system and new locks for the exterior doors cost about $50,000. It's part of a security upgrade commissioners first considered in 1996 but did not seriously pursue until after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.