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IDEA PHASE Public role important in City Hall project

City officials say they will seek public input over the next six weeks about what paths to follow in developing Paducah's future City Hall, which could be a new building or a re-do of the existing one.

As a preliminary to that process, Mayor Gayle Kaler, city commissioners and city department heads met last week to share views on how a new or revamped City Hall should function, and what the public experience should be. Two of the key areas of discussion are we think inter-related: the customer experience and the appropriate level of security.

We're in agreement with Mayor Kaler, Police Chief Brandon Barnhill and others at the meeting that with regard to security, something on the order of metal detectors would be a step too far.

The fact that other public buildings, notably courthouses, routinely screen entrants with metal detectors is not, we think, reason to extend that level of security to a place like City Hall. Courthouses are by their nature a more volatile atmosphere. By necessity, prisoners with court appearances have to be transferred between the courthouse and jail. Proceedings in the courtrooms themselves are adversarial and can be contentious, be it a couple of neighbors suing each other over a property line or a child custody dispute in family court. Family members of people charged with criminal offenses find themselves sharing the same hallways with jurors and state's witnesses.

It's a unique environment that requires heightened security, which means screening all who enter. The fact that such is an inconvenience to those visiting the more ministerial courthouse offices to renew an auto registration or pay a tax bill is just a fact of life most people have come to accept.

City halls however have a different atmosphere. While there's the occasional tempestuous commission meeting, usually with plenty of security on hand, most people who visit City Hall come there for routine business, like paying a tax bill or buying a permit. It is generally a lower-risk environment.

On the customer experience front, Commissioner Sandra Wilson observed that City Hall as currently configured can be confusing to navigate. It strikes us that the solution to that problem might also be the solution to the security issue. If entrances were set up such that people entering are funneled to a reception desk, the person manning it - perhaps a security officer, perhaps not - could serve a dual purpose. He or she could, by way of assisting, find out where people entering want to go and direct them, and could also serve as a security checkpoint to assure people entering have legitimate business in the building. It would be a lot less expensive and a lot friendlier than having a metal detector and a cadre of officers to man it.

A third issue raised was - whether it's a new building or a re-do of the existing City Hall - how much space should be developed. Commissioner Allan Rhodes suggested the tighter the better, saying "We should challenge ourselves to build smaller than we think we need."

We agree to a point. Rhodes is correct that avoiding excess space will pay in the long run in terms of costs for heating, air, lighting, etc. And it is likely that city governments, like companies, will get smaller over time as automation and other efficiencies allow fewer people to handle the daily workload. But we think be it a new building or a re-do of City Hall, the structure should be built in such a way that it can be easily expanded if necessary.

These are just a few of the many issues large and small the city faces as it determines how to replace the current, outmoded City Hall. The city is inviting citizens to share their ideas by emailing them to cityhallproject@paducahky.gov or posting comments on www.facebook.com/PaducahCityHallProject. We encourage citizens to do so, as often the best ideas come from outside the realm of daily decision-makers.

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