Government

Johnson County supervisor calls for secured entrance at county buildings in light of state law regarding firearms

The Johnson County Health and Human Services building (right) is connected by a skywalk over E. Benton Street to the Joh
The Johnson County Health and Human Services building (right) is connected by a skywalk over E. Benton Street to the Johnson County Administration Building. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — A Johnson County supervisor has called for creating a secured entrance to the county’s administration and health and human services buildings.

Board of Supervisors member Janelle Rettig made clear during a work session Wednesday that she did not support a scenario that would permit members of the public to carry weapons inside county buildings.

“I have no desire to allow weapons in the building and I won’t vote for it,” Rettig said.

Her comments came during a discussion about House File 2502, which went into effect July 1 and prevents cities and counties from regulating the possession of lawfully carried firearms on their properties. The board was informed by the county attorney’s office that their building policy preventing firearms in county buildings had been voided by HF 2502. Assistant Johnson County Susan Nehring told the board that such a policy would open the board up to potential lawsuits and proposed a resolution that would make clear that those who carry firearms in county buildings that they would have to do so lawfully.

Last week, the Iowa City Council reluctantly voted to lift their own weapons ban on city property.

The new law does allow for cities and counties to maintain weapon bans if they have secured entrances with armed personnel, similar to what is already in place at the Johnson County Courthouse. Rettig said she was in favor of such an effort for the administration and health and human services buildings, which are next door to each other and connected by skywalk.

“I find this utterly ridiculous,” she said. “Close every entrance. Make everyone enter one entrance and walk across the skywalk.”

Board chair Rod Sullivan said he would be “put off” by having the public go through a secured entrance and also expressed concerns about the potential costs.

“Then that’s the cost of doing business to protect our employees and the public,” Rettig said.

Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said she did not support pursuing a secured entrance for the buildings, but Supervisor Royceann Porter supported having a discussion about safety options. With Supervisor Pat Heiden not present for the meeting, there was no clear majority on the direction the board would take.

The board is scheduled to vote on the resolution Thursday and Nehring told the supervisors that adopting it would not preclude them from still pursuing additional security measures at county buildings.

Rettig’s comments came up later during the work session when supervisors were discussing a proposal to outfit space in the third floor of the health and human services building for the auditor’s office in anticipation of space needs for the general election. Deputy Auditor Mark Kistler told the board they could see as many as 60,000 absentee ballots this year and the current pandemic will make processing those ballots more difficult.

“We had people shoulder to shoulder (in past elections),” Kistler said. “We can’t do that anymore.”

Rettig balked at the estimated $100,000 for lighting, electrical and duct work needed to ready the space for the auditor’s office. Sullivan pointed out that Rettig wanted to spend money on securing the county buildings.

“(Legislators) gave us options and you want so spend the millions,” he said. “I don’t want to spend the millions. You want to spend the millions.”

The conversation eventually devolved into supervisors interrupting each other, Sullivan calling Rettig a liar for her characterization of the proposed lighting improvements and Rettig accusing her fellow board members of having a conflict of interest as Sullivan, Porter and Green-Douglass are all up for reelection this year.

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The proposal was supported by Porter and Green-Douglass, who said the space will need those improvements eventually any way and will be used by other county departments.

“I think it’s an investment toward future use,” Green-Douglass said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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