LISBON - A Salem resident came to the defense of Columbiana County commissioners in their dispute with a judge over who has the final say over courthouse security.
Speaking at Wednesday's meeting, Dave Piper said after reading last week's story he researched state law, which states that "under the direction and control of the board of county commissioners (the) sheriff shall have charge of the courthouse."
"I don't think it can be any more clear than that," he told commissioners, who agreed.
The dispute is about who has the authority to issue magnetic swipe security cards used by county employees to gain entry to the rear courthouse entrance. The original policy required the administrative judge, applying officeholder and chief of courthouse security to approve any swipe card applications, which were limited to county employees who work in the courthouse.
Halleck changed the policy this year, with approval authority transferred to commissioners, the county sheriff and the officeholder/department head requesting the card. He also opened up applications to county employees who work outside the courthouse.
Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike, who is the administrative judge this year, found out about the change last week and issued a court order reinstating the original policy, with Halleck responding by
threatening to file a lawsuit to resolve the dispute.
Sheriff Ray Stone is of the opinion he and commissioners are in charge of the courthouse, citing the same section of Ohio law referred to by Piper. Stone also referred to a legal opinion he sought in 2009 from Assistant County Prosecutor Tad Herold, who said the sheriff, "under the direction and control of county commissioners, is primarily responsible for courthouse security. This responsibility is not absolute, however, as the court of common pleas is vested with some autonomy to provide for its security and efficient operation."
Halleck said the legal opinion means the judges have authority only over the second floor of the courthouse, where the courtrooms are located, while commissioners and the sheriff have authority over the other two floors and the basement, including access to the courthouse.
"This isn't Mike Halleck singly. This is a board of county commissioners trying to clarify our position," he said. "We are just trying to follow the law after it became apparent we weren't following the law."
The original card policy was approved by commissioners at a 2009 meeting, two years before Halleck took office, but there was no such vote when the decision was made to change to policy this year. Commissioners are of the opinion the decision to change the card policy did not require formal action.
The 2009 policy also created a security committee consisting of the common pleas court judges, the sheriff, chief of courthouse security, and president of the board of commissioners, which is currently Halleck.
"I'd like to see some meeting minutes because I understand there have only been two" meetings, he said of the security committee.
When the card approval policy was changed, a provision was also lifted that restricted cards to only county employees working in the courthouse. This resulted in cards being issued to county Engineer Bert Dawson and county elections board officials Adam Booth and Kim Meek. Pike issued a directive last week instructing Chief Deputy Clerk of Courts Shane Patrone to cancel their cards
"You have a county engineer of 44 years. I hardly consider him a (security) threat," Halleck said of the decision. "Security is about common sense and not power."
Halleck noted Dawson was never advised his card had been revoked.
"I think they would have had the decency to call Bert Dawson - the longest-serving county engineer in the Ohio - to tell him they had demagnetized his card," he said.
Pike had made a similar remark about Halleck changing the policy, saying someone should have had the "decency" to advise him.
Halleck said commissioners are still considering their options on how to resolve the dispute.
"All we want to do is the right thing," he said, adding, "That's typical Mike Halleck."
Last week, Pike described the dispute by saying, "This is typical Mike Halleck."
Pike declined comment for this story, other than to say, "I don't think the public is paying us to fight. They're paying us to govern."