Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Broke As A Joke, But It Ain't Funny

The Hamilton County Commissioners have ordered all departments to cut their budgets by six percent for the last five months of the year. According to the Enquirer, Sheriff Simon Leis says he'll comply, but it's clear that he'll make sure we all notice:

Effective August 1, there will be less room in the Hamilton County jail, fewer deputies patrolling county communities and no one manning metal detectors at the courthouse or other county buildings.

Based on the comments linked to the article (I'm still not sure why it's a good idea for a newspaper--as opposed to a blog--to permit reader comments), a lot of people think Leis is whining, bluffing, or both.

I don't think he is.

We've already noticed one conspicuously absent guard in the Justice Center. For those of you who haven't been there, it's comprised of two buildings, connected to each other by a covered bridge at the second floor level. One of the buildings is connected to the courthouse by a covered bridge, as well. Typically, a deputy sits in a control room outside the secured areas of each of the buildings. Until this week. That's when Sheriff Leis eliminated the schedule for the deputy assigned to sit in the control room in the "South" building. So to visit inmates in the South building, attorneys (or probations officers, medical professionals, clergy, etc.) must now go to the North building, check in with the control room there, ride to the second floor, walk across the tunnel to the South building, and then take the South elevator to their final destination. This includes people trying to see inmates in the holding cells on the first floor of the South building, behind the courtrooms where defendants make their initial appearances.

I can't believe that Sheriff Leis is happy about this change. Visitors are all issued badges that show where they're headed. So if someone wanders away from the area to which their access is approved, it's always been easy for the corrections officers to tell at a glance. Now, though, the CO's will have to deal with people walking through the North building even though they have no business there--because it's the only way to get to the South building. The situation has to raise grave security concerns.

I've been interested by my own reaction to the announced elimination of metal detector coverage in the courthouse. I've always had a distaste for the increased security in government buildings over the past fifteen years, and have felt it unfair to have to subject one's self to a search as a condition of entry. But I'll admit: I'm unnerved by the thought of everyone entering the courthouse without passing through security. Lots of emotionally volatile things take place in our courtrooms every day. Once security is gone, lots of us will fear that an overwrought crime victim or family member will show up in a courtroom ready to exact his or her own form of justice.

The county is broke, folks. The question isn't whether it is, or whether to cut the budget. It's not even how we got here. (HamCo Republican Boss Triantafilou has decided to blame the Democrats. Apparently, he's forgotten that it's his Republican President's failed policies that have put our economy (and thus county revenues) into a death spiral, and Republican Bob Bedinghaus who was largely responsible for the terrible stadium deal.)

Now, we have to ask ourselves some real questions about revenue. How do we get more of it? How do we raise enough to provide at least a bare minimum of government services? I'm not sure anyone has the answer.

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