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MERCER COURTHOUSE County denies call for more security



Published: Thu, April 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Funding is behind the lack of courthouse screening, an official said.

MERCER, Pa. -- The county has denied a grievance filed by one of the unions that represent courthouse employees asking for more security at the county courthouse.

Personnel Director Bill Boyle said United Steelworkers Local 1355-04, which represents some county workers, filed a grievance March 17 expressing concern about courthouse security and asking that public access to the building be limited to one door where visitors would have to pass through a metal detector and put packages through an X-ray machine. He said their concerns stemmed from recent national events, not from anything that occurred here.

Boyle consulted with county commissioners and their solicitor and then responded to the union, stating the management has the right to maintain the building and that courthouse security is "not grievable."

Boyle said Mercer County remains the only courthouse in western Pennsylvania that does not screen visitors. In the past, commissioners have been asked for more security but have declined to install permanent metal detectors at entrances. Metal detectors have been used occasionally, to screen, for example, those attending some court trials. After a recent bomb threat, courthouse visitors were screened for several days. However, commissioners have refused to institute more permanent measures, citing the cost of additional personnel as well as the chilling effect metal detectors and X-ray units would have on citizens' perceptions of the courthouse.

Most recent, Sheriff William Romine Jr. and District Attorney James Epstein publicly asked commissioners to increase security, but commissioners again declined to take action. Romine said this week that he is collecting figures on security, which he plans to present to commissioners.

Money worries

At Tuesday's chief clerk's meeting, Commissioner Brian Beader said much of his reluctance to go to a full-security courthouse "is the financial aspect."

He acknowledged commissioners "wouldn't be able to survive the public scrutiny" if there was a "horrific incident."

According to the union agreement, if the union is not happy with the response to the grievance, they could ask for mediation, and then for arbitration. However, Boyle said they have filed no further actions.

The courthouse has had a security committee for 10 years that meets as needed. It consists of 15 people including elected officials, department heads and employees, including two members of the USW bargaining unit.




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