Pair of bailiffs proposed for increased courthouse security

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In a timely proposal Monday morning, the Putnam County Commissioners recommended adding a pair of bailiffs to the courthouse staff.

The suggestion comes just five days after an Ohio teen, accused of killing his uncle on Interstate 70 near Cloverdale, broke down in Putnam Superior Court, an outburst quelled by the presence of five armed and uniformed officers in the courtroom.

Of course, discussions of increased security are not confined to the last week. County leaders have been discussing the issue intermittently since 2007, increasing security measures on more than one occasion.

More recently, discussions have returned to the forefront, with a man entering Putnam Circuit Court and threatening Judge Matt Headley before being taken down by Cloverdale Police Sgt. Charlie Hallam.

The discussions may be starting to bear fruit, with commissioners David Berry and Don Walton suggesting the addition of a part-time bailiff for each courtroom, to be paid from the county's Public Safety Local Option Income Tax.

Commissioner Rick Woodall was not present Monday.

The proposal is tentative because any plan -- particularly the funding aspect -- must also be approved by the Putnam County Council before taking effect.

It remains to be seen what other county leaders will think of the part-time nature of the two proposed positions.

Although serving the two courts, the bailiffs would likely be under the supervision of Sheriff Scott Stockton, who seemed surprised by the part-time nature of the positions.

Neither Judge Headley nor Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges was present on Monday, so their opinions are unknown.

The council will likely consider the proposal when it meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 26, a meeting rescheduled from the normal monthly meeting date.

Besides protecting the people inside the courthouse, protection of the physical structure was also on the agenda.

Head custodian Brian Smith reported hail damage to the courthouse from the Sunday, May 1 storm that rolled through central Indiana.

Smith reported finding small pieces of limestone chipped from the facade of the building as well as leaks and window damage following the intense storm.

"It's going to deteriorate more if we don't do something soon," Smith said.

Besides reporting storm damage, Smith was following up on an October discussion with commissioners of pre-existing damage to the building.

At that time, officials were to gather information about potential contractors, but no follow-up has been made in a public meeting.

Commissioner Berry said he will be contacting contractors to get estimates on potential work.

Sheriff Stockton also reported that the jail was damaged, as well as one of department's new vehicles, which sustained an estimated $7,000 in damage.

In another ongoing discussion, Stockton requested permission to hire one full-time and one part-time jailer.

Although he received approval, Stockton questioned the county policy of asking department heads to appear before the commissioners and council before making hires that have no budgetary impact.

A vacancy at the wrong time can cause a two- to three-week delay in seeing the commissioners and possibly a full month in seeing the council.

"There is a delay and it costs my overtime budget," Stockton said. "These positions also require 80 hours of training."

The delay comes from a so-called "hiring freeze" instituted by the council and commissioners.

Although expressing sympathy at Stockton's plight, the commissioners gave no indication they plan to change their policy, saying such a move is up to the county council.

County Councilman Larry Parker, also in attendance Monday, said he has asked multiple times if the hiring freeze remains in effect and has never received a satisfactory answer.

In other business:

* Smith reported that the overhaul of the courthouse HVAC system is nearing completion. As of Monday, 90 of 92 units had been installed.

Once installation is over, only some checklist items need to be completed, bringing to an end the three-year plan to upgrade the courthouse system.

* Jamie France of Putnam County Community Corrections reported that the county will receive an additional $109,500 in grant funding during the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Of the additional amount, $79,500 will go to the adult probation department to fund an additional probation officer as well as purchase a new vehicle.

The remaining $30,000 will fund drug treatment programs at the Putnam County Jail.

* Commissioners approved changing the annual health insurance renewal date from February to August. The new date will bring questions of insurance costs, one of the county's biggest expenses, in line with approval of the annual budget.

* Assessor Nancy Dennis received approval for appointments to the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA).

PTABOA members are appointed annually, and five of the six are the same as last year.

New appointment Jason Hartman joins Dennis, Jana Sillery, Virginia Whipple, Beth Hinkle and Ken Heeke on the board.

* The commissioners also appointed Richard Cope to the Walnut Creek Fire Protection District Board, replacing Jim Hilburn, who recently resigned.

* Putnam County Highway Department administrative assistant Radene Varvel was honored by the commissioners on the occasion of her retirement.

Varvel has worked for the county for 28 years, the last 18 at the highway department.

"It will not be the same without her," Highway Department Supervisor Mike Ricketts said.

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  • Why 2 part time positions instead of 1 full time position? So you don't have to offer benefits? You will have a better pool of candidates if you offer a full time position with full time benefits. And I cannot believe there are NO bailiffs already in place! There should be one (full time) bailiff for each court. Do both courts have a full docket? Then they should a full time bailiff.

    -- Posted by momofboys on Tue, May 17, 2016, at 3:36 PM
  • Why don't the county use the method other counties are going to? They do it all through video and audio cameras and the prisoner doesn't leave the jail. Think of the money the county could save and less chance of harm to anyone.

    -- Posted by chicken on Tue, May 17, 2016, at 9:30 PM
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