Council opens wallet to make City Hall a safer place

MANASSAS — City Council members voted Monday night to spend $32,625 from the city’s miscellaneous contingency fund to implement several security measures at City Hall.

A total of $52,824 will be needed for the city to put all of its recommendations in place; the additional funds will be taken from the year-end carryover budget.

The Manassas Police Department began a security assessment for City Hall in August after employees expressed concern about personal safety. That concern only increased after the events of Sept. 11.

“[There had been] several instances when [a city employee] had observed suspicious persons loitering or walking around at night in City Hall,” states a city staff report. “At 10 p.m. on August 14, 2001, there was a violent purse snatch robbery in the City Hall parking lot. Shortly after the security audit was underway, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.”

After Sept. 11, city staff assessed security policies and procedures at city buildings, including the airport and control tower, water treatment plant, museum, police department, public works and social services.

Some of the changes that were suggested by the City Hall audit included making it less assessable after hours to members of the public.

“City Hall should afford access to employees and city officials while maintaining a balance of physical security for persons working in and visiting our seat of government,” according to the staff report.

Soon, city officials will prohibit access to Floors 2 through 4 after hours and install a card-reader that will be used at the elevator and stairwells after hours and on weekends.

Councilwoman Judith A. Hays expressed for the few citizen groups who use City Hall for their meetings during the week.

“Does this mean residents will not be able to use the second-floor conference room for night meetings?” she asked.

“That access will be eliminated unless those parties are escorted by a city official or staff member,” said Police Chief John J. Skinner. “This is a movement that is occurring all over the nation during this time.”

The first safety measures to be implemented at City Hall include new locks that would ensure no former staff member who had not turned in a set of keys could enter the building.

Also, the new procedures require visitor’s badges to be worn by those who access City Hall beyond the treasurer’s office. The city will install 12 panic buttons, at a cost of $100 a piece, throughout the building, and video surveillance will be installed in the treasurer’s office, as will an alarm system for the entire building at a cost of $8,125.

Later in the year, the city will install planters in the front traffic circle to prevent vehicles from driving next to or in front of the building. However, access will still be available for those who are picking up or dropping off people. The decorative planters will cost $4,000 and will be funded from the current public works budget.

Staff writer Trina Goethals can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.

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