Commissioners OK new magistrate court security

PERRY — The Houston County Board of Commissioners agreed to a new security plan at the Magistrate Court Building on Cohen Walker Drive, including funding security guards and a bailiff, during their meeting Tuesday morning.

There have been no full-time security personnel assigned to the court in the past.

Chief Magistrate Judge Robert Turner, who took office in 2006, requested the security following a couple of incidents within the past nine months in which people became unruly and were arrested in the building lobby and charged with disorderly conduct.

In a letter to the commissioners, Turner said it took 15 to 20 minutes for law enforcement personnel to arrive when summoned, and that he feared for the safety of employees and visitors to the court if more security wasn’t provided.

At Tanner’s request, Sheriff Cullen Talton had his staff prepare a security plan for the building. It includes having a single controlled entrance with a metal detector during business hours, a video surveillance system, two-way radios and the installation of security windows at the clerks’ counters. It also called for two security guards to be on duty during business hours, plus a bailiff when court was in session.

In a compromise, the commissioners agreed to fund one full-time security guard, one part-time guard and the bailiff. The security guards will be hired as grade 15 employees, with a starting salary of $29,000 a year. The bailiff will be paid $75 per court day.

Talton indicated he had money in his budget to cover the salaries for the remainder of this fiscal year, but money for the positions will have to be added to future budgets.

The commissioners and Superior Court Judge George Nunn Jr., who also approved the security plan, have agreed to use $21,500 in surplus Law Library funds to pay for the building improvements and security equipment.

In other business, commissioners denied a request by Debbie Van Horn for an exception to allow her to operate an Internet firearms sales business from her home at 121 Fuller Road in Whitfield Farms in Hayneville.

Van Horn explained that she would not keep any guns or other merchandise at her home or sell anything directly to people from there.

“I act as a broker. I take orders over the computer, then contact the wholesalers and have them ship non-firearm items directly to the customers. The firearms I sell are shipped to a licensed firearms dealer wherever the customer lives, and then the customer has to go to the dealer who performs the background checks required by law before delivering the guns. I never have the guns in my possession,” she said.

Despite her repeated assurances that she would not store guns at her home or sell them from there, several of the commissioners indicated they were concerned that giving approval for her business license would allow Van Horn to do so, since she is a licensed firearms dealer.

But in denying her request, Commissioner Tom McMichael said it was because the county ordinance governing home businesses does not allow for retail sales from homes unless the product is made by the homeowner or homeowner’s family, even if the sales are over the Internet and the merchandise is not stored at or sold from the home.

“It is not because she sells firearms. We would have to rule the same even if she sold bicycles,” he said.

McMichael said granting Van Horn’s exception could “open a Pandora’s box that would allow all sorts of retail sales in residential areas.”

In the other zoning matter, the commissioners denied a request by Josh Bloodworth to rezone his nearly 1-acre lot on the east side of Ga. 247 just north of Ga. 96 from residential to commercial. Bloodworth, who owns a landscaping business, said he wants to store sand, topsoil, mulch and other materials on the lot to cut down on transportation costs.

“I won’t have customers coming there. I’ll just be storing materials until I load them to go to job sites where I’ll need them,” he said.

Bloodworth also pointed out that the land on the other side of 247 from his lot is zoned industrial and that there are other commercial areas both north and south of him.

“This whole area will eventually be commercial,” he said.

Rawleigh Jackson, who lives in a home next door to Bloodworth’s lot, agreed that the area will probably all wind up commercial one day, but he said for now the stretch is still zoned residential and that approving Bloodworth’s request would amount to spot zoning and open the door for others to request the same anywhere in the county.

The commissioners also said it is likely the area will be all commercial and industrial one day, but for now the county’s future land use plan still has that side of the highway zoned residential so they denied Bloodworth’s request.

In other action, the commissioners:

Ÿ Approved transferring a surplus 1997 Crown Victoria to the district attorney’s office, contingent on the prosecuting attorneys’ council taking the title of the vehicle and the county not being responsible for gas, insurance and maintenance expenses.

ŸApproved transferring $10,000 from the contingency fund to the State Court to pay jurors through the end of the fiscal year.

Ÿ Approved a request from Warner Robins to annex 11.03 acres at 1124 Houston Lake Road owned by Sandy Valley Baptist Church into the city.

Ÿ And approved a request from T-Mobile to erect a 300-foot cell tower off A.E. Harris Road a little north of the intersection of 247 Spur and U.S. 341 contingent on approval by Robins Air Force Base through the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center that it will not interfere with flight operations.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.