Below is a copy of a Q & A memo sent to local news organizations in response to an article about security at future Alexandria City Council meetings. It is unedited and presented in full.
TO: News Media
FROM: Office of the Mayor
City of Alexandria
RE: “Roy seeks to tighten security at meetings”
The Town Talk, May 4, 2007
DATE: May 4, 2007
Questions and Answers
Why did council members say they were taken by surprise? And, why would they be concerned about increasing security?
As far as the council being surprised, the security issue is nothing new, and they, indeed, had verbally stated their concerns. If you look at their offices, they are completely locked down from the front entrance of the department to the door connected to the council chambers. Only those with the code are able to access the rooms behind the actual city council chambers. The suggestion for a security plan, made by Chuck Johnson, who serves both the Administration and the City Council, was to ensure that everyone in the council chambers would be provided with the same level of security currently provided to the council alone except in open session.
The issue here is not about security. The Administration does not engage in surprise tactics, although it constantly deals with such action by the city council which uniformly seeks to broaden its role from legislating to day-to-day operations.
In city government, there are two branches – the City Council, led by the City Council President, and the Administration, led by the Mayor. The City Council’s role is to authorize ordinances that govern the city, and the Administration’s role is to enforce that legislation and manage the City’s operations and planning. One of those operational requirements is to do everything to protect the residents of our city, particularly when they use our public facilities.
Why is the Administration interested in increasing security?
I have no apologies for being concerned about security in this day and age. It’s easy to criticize the attention being paid to creating a security plan until something actually happens. Then the question would be “why was more not done”? The city’s administration takes its responsibility for public safety seriously and that includes everyone who attends council meetings including the councilmen, the administration and especially the residents who are in attendance.
Has there been a specific event that triggered the proposal?
To be specific, members of the administration have had real threats. In addition, we’ve had people walk into council meetings with duffel bags and other paraphernalia that seem unrelated to the reason for being at the meeting, and yes, that does raise the level of concern. But, most importantly, it is clear that an appropriate response to a threat cannot occur under the current model.
I would like to note that many of the governmental buildings in the same vicinity have strict security measures including the Rapides Parish Courthouse, Alexandria City Court, U.S. District Court and the Louisiana State Office Building.
Could the council have initiated measures to increase security?
Absolutely. Because the City Council’s chamber space is under its control, we had initially hoped that the council members would initiate additional security procedures. When nothing was forthcoming, the city attorney, who acts on the behalf of both branches of government, sent down a letter outlining his recommendations to create a more secure meeting place and simply follow existing law, which as I mentioned before, is the Administration’s job.
In the letter, it was mentioned that a Fire Department officer would be on hand to enforce capacity regulations? Why is that important?
As far as enforcing the fire code regarding legal capacity, I want to say that we’re pleased that the residents have taken an interest in city government by attending our council meetings, but overcrowding any space beyond its limits is unsafe. The capacity for the room is set through a national code and is designed to make sure that people can get out of the building quickly and efficiently in case of a fire. Again, this is the Administration enforcing a regulation that is already in place.
What about council members saying there is a lack of communication?
In reference to the comments regarding the lack of communication, I personally make concerted efforts to be available at any time day or night to speak to council members and have instructed the rest of my staff to be as accessible. Since I took office in December, I have made repeated attempts to contact Mr. Everett Hobbs by phone. He has neither answered nor returned numerous phone calls since that time. Because it is vital that the City Council President and the Mayor of any city are able to share and discuss information, I have resorted to the written word in order to assure consistent communication to Mr. Hobbs and the entire council. This is not my first choice in that it extends the time it takes to get things done, but I have been left with no other options.