Mayor-President Kip Holden recently beefed up security around his administration’s offices by adding security cameras and a keypad lock to prevent potentially threatening intruders from entering the outer lobby leading to the mayor’s suite.
Earlier this month, about $8,000 in security upgrades were installed outside of the Mayor’s Office suite on the third floor of the city hall building.
Visitors need to pass through two sets of doors to reach the mayor-president or his direct staff.
The first is a glass door that leads to a waiting area with a receptionist, and the second is a door that is kept locked.
The most recent security upgrades added a keypad lock outside the glass door to the lobby, meaning visitors could have to be buzzed in twice to get through to the mayor.
The new keypad lock will only be used on an “as-needed basis,” said John Carpenter, chief administrative officer for Holden.
Carpenter said the upgrades were paid for with a Homeland Security grant. The grant was used to pay for new monitors, surveillance cameras, a panic button alarm, and the keypad locks outside the second set of doors, he said.
Carpenter said there has not yet been a need to use the additional locks and it will only be used if there is a threat on the mayor’s office or if “we see someone who looks suspicious in the hallway.”
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker said the security upgrades were unnecessary given that the mayor has police detail assigned to provide personal security and there are uniformed officers that guard the building.
“Why do you need a police officer and a lock on the door?” he said. “To me the message it sends as a taxpayer and a citizen is, ‘I’ve just locked you out of my office.’ ”
“Well we put you in that office and we’d like to come see you from time to time,” Walker added.
Carpenter said the need for the security upgrades stemmed from an incident a few months ago when a homeless man entered the mayor’s office waiting area and refused to leave.
“He came in and sat down and started going through his bag, pulling things out and pointing fingers saying he wasn’t going to leave until he got his money or something to that effect,” Carpenter said.
The homeless man left after police threatened him with a Taser, Carpenter said, but the man returned the next day.
“(The lock) won’t be on there all the time, it just gives us an option,” he said.
Walker noted that when he worked for former Mayor Woody Dumas in the 1970s, the door was never closed, even during the time following a deadly riot that broke out during a confrontation between Black Muslims and local law-enforcement officers.
Holden’s administration is the only one since former Mayor-President Pat Screen to make use of any locked doors.
Former Mayor-President Tom Ed McHugh, who succeeded Screen, went so far as to physically remove the inner locked door from its hinges.
McHugh said he took off the door to encourage an open-door policy and demonstrate transparency, which were issues he campaigned on.
He recalled that one day while he was away, a staff member put the door back up after an incident.
“There was some kind of issue or problem and they put it back up,” McHugh said. “When I came back, I had it removed again.”
The doors stayed off the hinges through McHugh’s administration and stayed off when Mayor-President Bobby Simpson took office.
It wasn’t until Holden took office that the door was replaced.
“That was 22 years ago, and under a lot different circumstances,” McHugh said, referring back to the start of his administration. “I personally enjoyed that kind of process but I can see where today I might not be in a position to do that.”
Holden utilizes body guards and drivers, as did Screen, while McHugh and Simpson did not.
In an email, Carpenter said, “Other mayors lived at a different time.”
He added, “The security is not really only about the Mayor, but his staff and visitors.”