SIOUX CITY -- The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors next week will consider bringing back a ban of guns in the county courthouse, as they continue to work through controversial issues related to an expanded gun rights state law.
Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew on Tuesday challenged the county board to return to the gun ban, saying otherwise it could cost nearly $1 million to add new security measures in the Woodbury County Courthouse, and also add them in two other nearby downtown county buildings that have court functions.
As Drew verbally sparred primarily with Supervisor Jeremy Taylor on whether the security measures should be extended to the Trosper Hoyt Building and the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center, two members of the public weighed in. Both people from Sioux City, William Burrows and Kevin Keane, said it is preferable for safety reasons to not have guns in the courthouse.
"It is simple, no guns in the courthouse, ever," Burrows slowly said, his voice rising to nearly a yell.
The courthouse has county departments mingled with court functions, which is complicating how Drew's office handles security in the eight-story building. Drew said recent court orders saying guns can be brought in parts of the building means that carrying out the security plan, which first started in 2014, is "extremely difficult."
"I would ask you to walk it back, to say there is a ban in the courthouse," Drew said.
There have been two important supervisory orders from the Iowa Supreme Court since June on the issue. Those orders said guns can't be carried into areas with court functions, and they were updated locally on Feb. 6 by Duane Hoffmeyer, chief judge of the Iowa Third Judicial District.
After Hoffmeyer's order, weapons can be brought into all portions of floors 5, 7 and 8 in the courthouse, while guns cannot be brought on any parts of floors 2, 3 and 4, but they can be on some portions of floors 1 and 6.
"Trying to make sure people don't enter certain floors... is almost an impossibility," Drew said.
Currently, people can bring guns into the courthouse if they have a permit for concealed carry. The 2017 law, among other things, broadens the state’s so-called stand-your-ground provision, so a law-abiding citizen does not have a duty to retreat in a public place before using deadly force when confronted with danger to life or property.
Trosper-Hoyt has juvenile courts on the second floor, while the law enforcement center has court functions on the main floor.
Drew shared four security plan options Tuesday, with costs that range from $560,641 to $945,951. The first security program cost less than $300,000 four years ago, but that amount of money wouldn't come close to covering the costs Drew projects as necessary now for security in the three buildings.
Taylor said it was curious that Drew was making the cost projection for more security to address guns through an apples-to-oranges scenario. He noted the sheriff had never before brought forth costs for security at Trosper Hoyt and the jail building.
"These costs may not be necessary," Taylor said.
Sheriff's Office Maj. Todd Wieck answered that in many past county security committee meetings Drew had said there was an unaddressed need in the other buildings.
"That (Hoffmeyer) order says we are required to screen for weapons on the second floor of Trosper Hoyt," and the county law enforcement center, Wieck said.
Board Chairman Rocky De Witt brought the discussion to a close by offering a motion, speaking similarly to Drew in asserting that having guns in the courthouse is unpopular among county residents.
"I have yet to find someone who is in favor of weapons in the courthouse," De Witt said. "I would be in favor of reinstating the weapons ban and letting the chips fall where they may."
Hofmeyer told the supervisors he would issue a new order reinstating a weapons ban, if they requested it.
De Witt said that vote will come at the next weekly meeting on Feb. 20. That is the final meeting in which the supervisors plan to address potential expenses, such as security costs, in setting the 2018-19 fiscal year budget, which will be settled on March 13.
Taylor said the FY 2019 budget is shaping up well. After tapping $300,000 from the county's portion of gambling revenues from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City, Taylor announced sufficient changes had been made to result in a reduction in the county's property tax levy compared to the current fiscal year.
That would make a fourth consecutive year with a reduced property tax levy in the county, which Taylor cited as highly notable.