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Courthouse security concerns Hubbard commissioners

Hubbard County commissioners came back from Duluth scared.

Last week they attended an annual Association of Minnesota Counties convention. One particular workshop put the fear of God in them: It featured the June 24 shooting of a disgruntled citizen in the Morrison County boardroom.

Gordon Wheeler Sr., whose adult-oriented businesses were ordered closed by Morrison County officials, sat through part of the county board meeting with a handgun concealed in a red bandanna.

About 20 minutes into the meeting, he took the board and spectators hostage. Two commissioners were able to escape and ran to get help.

Wheeler's long-running feud with the county ended tragically when law enforcement officers stormed the boardroom and shot him dead.

Morrison County officials had sought to shut down his businesses and he unsuccessfully sued in 2007 to prevent their closure. County officials admitted the more they crossed swords with Wheeler, the angrier and more unreasonable he became.

The issue of Hubbard County's security - or lack of it - surfaced Wednesday when Sheriff Gary Mills suggested spending upwards of $11,000 to place cameras in strategic corridors throughout the courthouse and the main boardroom that would be monitored by dispatchers or court personnel.

"You've got a dispatcher already overworked that isn't going to pay attention to it," board chair Cal Johannsen said.

"Maybe I'm just being paranoid but I don't think we can screw around much longer without having more security in this courthouse," commissioner Dick Devine said.

"I agree," said Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne. "Just recently I had to physically remove an irate person from my office."

Commissioners debated whether the cash-poor county can afford such security - or whether it can afford not to have it.

Whether cameras would stop a determined person from causing harm was a matter of disagreement.

"If they come here to shoot someone you're going to have to personally defend yourself," commissioner Lyle Robinson said.

"You cannot be foolish here," Devine responded. "I just don't know if I want to wait another year."

"Knowing that fact you have to do everything to protect yourself," Mills told the board. "In these extreme incidences, people that come here to argue might do it differently if they know they're on camera."

Commissioners worried about the cost, which could approach $16,000, and about personnel to monitor the cameras. Mills said court personnel in the administrator's office would be able to view the monitors, and dispatchers would likewise be able to keep watch on the camera screens.

Commissioners compromised on looking into installing a metal detector, which might run about $4,000. A metal detector at the main county door would screen weapons and many courthouses in the region took those safety precautions after several courthouse shootings a decade ago.

"I don't want to take the attitude that if they're gonna get us they're gonna get us," Devine said.