EVERETT — A new set of city guidelines gives a uniformed security guard the power to turn visitors away from the Wall Street building, which houses the offices of Mayor Ray Stephanson and many city government departments.
The building is owned by the city and also is used for public meetings, which anyone can attend.
The security guard also is tasked with keeping a daily log of any activity deemed “out of the ordinary, suspicious, or noteworthy,” and emailing it on a weekly basis to Deputy Mayor Debra Bryant and Facilities Manager Scott Pattison.
“Security personnel are allowed to stop people entering the building, and to verify visitors have business in the building,” the guidelines read. “Those without any identifiable business are not provided access.”
Everett is paying Spokane-based Phoenix Protective Corp. $76,342.50 a year to provide an unarmed, uniformed guard to sit behind a desk in the lobby of the building.
The decision to install the guard was driven by concerns about the safety of city employees, Stephanson said.
“I think it took some period of time where employees were complaining, it was getting to myself, it was getting to Debra, and they didn’t feel safe in their workplace,” Stephanson said.
“At the end of the day, I just felt I was trying to be responsive to the employees in the building,” he said.
The security changes were made after a number of incidents in the previous year.
Police were called to the building eight times between November 2015 and March 2016 to respond to various situations. People have been found in the building after hours and in the staff parking garage, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.
There also have been several instances of vandalism with large windows being broken out, Pembroke said. The security guard witnessed one of those incidents, leading to an arrest.
It cost the city $20,000 to replace the damaged windows, she said.
The most recent version of the security protocols provided by the city is dated Sept. 21, but they have been in effect since March, when the city first hired a private security firm for the Wall Street building.
There are earlier versions of the guidelines that date from about May, Pembroke said.
“Certainly parts of it have been in place informally, this finalizes it,” she said.
The city installed a card-key access system to the elevator and stairwell, so visitors have to request the security guard to let them use the elevator to reach other floors.
The security protocols also indicate what the guards should not do: they cannot stop or ask for identification from someone who says they are there to participate in a public meeting or a session in front of a hearing examiner, which is prohibited under state law.
The guard also should not ask the identities of people who want to use the FedEx drop box or bathrooms in the lobby.
Otherwise, the guard has the discretion to turn someone away. “A citizen does not automatically have the right to see or speak to a specific government official,” the protocols say.
People showing up without an appointment to see someone would have to provide their name and the guard would then call the relevant city department before allowing the visitor access.
City staff and tenants of the building have been issued badges, which they are required to show the guard when entering.
The security guard’s presence doesn’t necessarily mean people will be turned away, Pembroke said.
“If people come in without an appointment, they can still be escorted up,” she said. “It’s about making sure the building is secure after hours.”
Stephanson said he wants to ensure people have access to the building and city government.
“We’re not trying to discourage that,” he said, adding that he didn’t think a uniformed guard’s presence would deter people who have city business.
“I’ve not had anyone say, ‘I can’t get in to see you,’” he said.
“I think our citizens, to their credit, are outspoken enough that if they felt like they were being kept from a department or being kept from seeing me, I think they would say something,” Stephanson said.
Police Chief Dan Templeman said in a statement that the city has a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for its employees and visitors, while also striking a balance with the need for the public to access governmental services.
“Having an unarmed, uniformed security presence within the Wall Street Building represents a reasonable, low-level measure that acts as a deterrent to anyone wishing to cause harm or damage to the building and/or employees, but still maintains access to local government,” Templeman said.
Other public buildings have various security measures in place, especially federal buildings, which are protected by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service and other security organizations.
The Snohomish County Courthouse has metal detectors, private security guards and also has marshals on duty. Visitors are not typically questioned about the reason for their visits, however.
Snohomish County also allows free access to many parts of the Robert J. Drewel Building, including the stairs and elevators, even while certain offices have their own reception areas.
The city of Seattle contracts with Allied Universal Services of Santa Ana, California, to provide security at City Hall, the Seattle Justice Center and Municipal Court, and the Seattle Municipal Tower, city spokeswoman Julie Moore said.
But Seattle City Hall also has a reception desk staffed by a customer-service representative to guide visitors, Moore said. Guards are there for security.
The Seattle mayor’s and City Council’s floors are generally accessible to the public, Moore said, although there are reception desks for visitors to check in on those floors before being granted access to the work spaces.
The 10th floor of the Wall Street building, where Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson’s office is located, also has a reception area, with controlled access to his and his staff’s offices.
Some City Council members weren’t bothered by the change.
“It’s obviously a different world we live in,” said Councilman Paul Roberts.
“We have had people who have made threats to different folks, and we live in a world where we need to take that more seriously,” he said.
Councilman Scott Bader said it seems as if nearly every government building he goes into nowadays has some security presence.
“Unless some people are being denied entry to get to where they need to go, it doesn’t bother me. It just seems like a normal part of life nowadays, unfortunately,” Bader said.
Stephanson said the city staff considered taking this step only after several months discussion.
“This was not some rush to judgment. We really thought about what our employees said, and in a number of cases they didn’t feel safe,” Stephanson said.
“We see it every day: we pick up the newspaper and some soft target had been hit,” he said.
In August, during the campaign rally downtown for President-elect Donald Trump, a suspicious package was left near the exit to the parking garage, necessitating the police bomb squad to remove it, Stephanson said.
The mayor had an appointment to get to and had to find another way of getting there since he couldn’t get his car out of the garage.
“I don’t want to believe the world is that way, but we read about it all the time,” Stephanson said.