As a newspaper, we take seriously the responsibility to view the actions of our elected officials under a microscope.
As both WSMV TV 4 and The Lebanon Democrat have reported, Wilson County’s Judicial Center at 134 S. College Street has become an building where private vendors may come – at least one, Shelbi Lavender, at the invitation of Circuit Court Clerk Linda Spain Neal – and sell their wares.
We do not believe this is the best use of time and facilities at the taxpayer-supported Circuit Court Clerk’s office, something our court clerk simply does not understand.
Court clerks are powerful people. They are elected by the citizens and have no real bosses and no real oversight beyond “the voters.”
We believe as State Senator Mae Beavers concludes her work creating needed oversight for judges, she should turn her attention to the elected clerks.
In this matter, one can debate the appropriateness of allowing private vendors to sell their wares inside the offices of the circuit court. We have no doubt employees may enjoy the opportunity to purchase jewelry, or by Mrs. Neal’s admission, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, birdhouses, and other items on taxpayer-funded county property during work hours. We aren’t certain the citizens will agree with her assessment as we believe the citizens of Wilson County expect their government and their elected officials to meet a much higher standard.
More perplexing is her admission that she has allowed at least one vendor in the back door, bypassing security. This is an admission on her part and in our view, as well as the view of Wilson County Sheriff’s Department officials, is an egregious breach in the seurity of a county judicial building.
Mrs. Neal told reporter Sabrina Garrett that she informed security (sheriff’s deputies) that she was going to let a vendor in the back door.
On Wednesday morning, Mrs. Neal told Managing Editor Clay Morgan that the deputy did not give permission but did not deny her request, so she assumed it was acceptable. She then blamed the deputy for not coming to inspect the vendor’s bags.
Both Sheriff Terry Ashe and WCSD Captain Gary Keith indicate a deputy denied permission.
Mrs. Neal contends that people, particularly employees, are frequently let in the back door.
The metal detectors and security processes for judicial buildings exist for very specific, important reasons and deputies are stationed there for a reason – to counter very real threats that exist in this day and age.
According to the U.S. Marshall’s Service, threats against federal court personnel are on the rise – doubling during the six-year period ending in 2009. The Washington Post reported that State Court officials are seeing the same trends, though specific numbers are not available. In a Washington Post story, the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg said threats are coming from violent offenders along with divorce, probate and other civil litigants.
It’s a dangerous job and security must be the paramount concern of all employees.
We have no doubt that Mrs. Neal has no desire to endanger the building or anyone in it, but her actions – whether permission was granted or not – have breached security.
We strongly encourage the county to establish firm policies pertaining to having such “sales” on any county property.
Furthermore, we encourage Sheriff Ashe to continue with his efforts to enhance the security of our county buildings and expect all county employees to support that effort.