County officials decided this week to pursue an ordinance that would regulate when and where such demonstrations could be conducted on courthouse property in the future. Currently there are no such restrictions.
The Putnam County Commissioners talked this week about a small group of anti-war demonstrators who staged a rally beneath the World War II buzz bomb about a week ago.
County officials said they were concerned, not with the demonstrators themselves, but with the location they chose to stage their protest. The buzz bomb is located on the southwest lawn of the courthouse which is bordered on two sides by U.S. 231.
On that side of the courthouse, the lawn slopes right to the intersection where a large number of dump trucks, semi-tractor trailers and cars travel every day.
County Planner Kim Hyten told Commissioners Kristina Warren, Gene Beck and Dennis O'Hair that he is worried someone could slip and fall down the slope and land in the path of traffic.
The commissioners agreed, turning to county attorney Scott Hoff who said the county has the authority to restrict when and where demonstrations can be conducted on government property, especially when safety is a concern. It was suggested that future activities may be best suited for the northeast corner of the courthouse, but no decisions were made.
Hoff told the commissioners that he would look into drafting an ordinance for that purpose and bring it to a future meeting for the board to consider.
He said the ordinance would apply not only to demonstrators, but to anyone wanting to have activities on the courthouse grounds, including politicians who typically stage their events on the south steps of the courthouse.
In other matters, the commissioners learned that members of a committee to study the need for a third court in Putnam County will be coming to the commissioners in December or January with a formal proposal.
Judge Robert Lowe said the committee is finalizing information concerning an additional court to handle an every-growing case load for the county.
"It's going to affect everyone in the county if we don't have the courts to handle the civil and criminal cases," Lowe said.
Right now the committee is exploring the different options for adding a third court, which includes the possibility of demolishing the current courthouse annex, located on West Liberty Street, and constructing a new facility in the same location.
"Nothing is definite right now, other than that the need is here," Lowe said. "That's definite."
He said the group is seeking a formal commitment from the commissioners and the council to take to state officials who will decide whether to grant permission for another judge and court in Putnam County.
"We need to be able to go to the state and say that our commissioners and council are behind this," Lowe said.
Lowe told the commissioners Monday that he was not seeking any vote this week but would be seeking a commitment once the formal proposal is presented either next month or in early January.
The next meeting of the county commissioners is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20 at the courthouse annex.