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Not So Open Government

Elected officials often like to toss around the term “open government.” But, no matter how transparent the doings at Southampton Town Hall may be, getting access to them, and the people within the Hampton Street edifice is about to get a little tougher.

During last Thursday’s town board work session, town public safety and emergency management administrator Steve Troyd offered an update on efforts towards keeping town facilities safe.

Like some area school districts, officials plan to implement an enhanced security desk in the town hall’s main lobby. Visitors will have to check in and offer up their driver’s licenses for scanning. They’ll get badges that expire at the end of the day and be tracked during their time in town hall. Officials will be able to know what time a person arrived and entered the building, and be able to track who was where when. “It’s a good tool for us to have,” Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone opined.

An outside contractor will man the desk, which will have a 180-degree view of the lobby, during set business hours, at a cost of $75,000. Committees that meet after hours may have to relocate within town hall, so sections of the building can be sealed off.

A monitoring system may allow guards to ban unwanted individuals. “I don’t think we want to do that,” said Troyd, “but it could give the heads up to security.” Officials could also implement a bag check system, though that’s not in the works so far.

Access control measures will target doors at town hall, with some fitted to allow only card swipe access for employees. Fitting the doors that way could also allow for access control to individual offices in the future, Christine Fetten of the town’s public works department said.

Town employees are supportive of the measure, Zappone reported.

When mass shootings in public places began to dominate the news, school districts were among the first institutions to implement enhanced safety procedures.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2013–14 school year, 93 percent of public schools reported that they controlled access to school buildings by locking or monitoring doors during school hours.

Other safety and security measures reported by public schools included the use of security cameras to monitor the school (75 percent) and a requirement that faculty and staff wear badges or picture IDs (68 percent). About 45 percent of public schools have one or more security guards.

According to a CNN report last fall, the Government Accountability Office surveyed schools and found that nearly two thirds of them conduct active-shooter exercises and have plans in place should a shooter breach a building.

Following terrorist attacks on Canada’s government buildings in 2014, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called for more security at federal buildings. Locally, the county executive’s digs in the Dennison Building in Hauppauge and the court buildings in Riverside have had security windows requiring driver’s license check-ins for well over a decade.

Speaking to the need for upgraded security at town hall, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman summarized, “The world is changing.”