Assessor fights for safety measure

FAIRMONT – Martin County Assessor Dan Whitman approached Martin County commissioners Tuesday to request that the board reconsider a request for a bulletproof glass window.

During their Jan. 21 meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 against having bulletproof glass installed in the Assessor’s Office service window. The cost for bulletproof glass is nearly double the cost of the tempered glass commissioners approved, with the estimate for bulletproof glass coming in at nearly $6,000.

Whitman said his office prefers dealing with customers face to face, without any glass, but the current location of the office has put the safety of employees at risk.

“I didn’t have any desire to put glass in,” Whitman said. “But it has become a concern for our safety and peace of mind.”

The Assessor’s Office is located on the second floor of the security building, anchoring the skywalk to the Martin County Courthouse. Jail inmates are ushered through this narrow walkway for court hearings.

The probation department is next door to the Assessor’s Office, and the waiting area for probation clients is right by the office’s service window.

“There have been two recent incidents that have made me feel that requesting [bulletproof glass] is the right thing to do,” Whitman said. “The first was a security workshop we attended … It’s always something that’s in the back of our minds, being aware of our surroundings. But after this workshop, it became a real concern.

“The second incident was we had a violent fight outside our window,” Whitman said, with some emotion creeping into his voice. “It was scary … We were lucky law enforcement was in the building, but it still took two to three minutes for them to arrive. It seemed like a long time. But I have staff that are sitting in front of that window with no place to hide.”

Whitman also said members of the probation department advised the Assessor’s Office workers to do whatever it takes to protect themselves and their office.

“[They] said these people are known for acting out and have been known to carry weapons,” Whitman said.

Commissioners Dan Schmidtke and Elliot Belgard both stated they believe the bulletproof glass is worth the investment. They were the two dissenting votes Jan. 21.

“I said it before, if we do it, we should do it bulletproof,” Belgard said.

“What’s $6,000 compared to someone’s life?” Schmidtke added.

Whitman stated the main reason he requested a glass window to be installed is for it to be bulletproof.

“If this isn’t going to accomplish that goal, then it’s a waste of money,” Whitman said. “If you can’t do it, then we can do without.”

Commissioner Steve Pierce still remained against the request.

“This doesn’t change my vote,” he said. “At first I thought this was in regards to privacy, but with respect to the bulletproof glass, where does it start and where does it stop? Do we need it in every office? You can go through the whole brand-new security building in Blue Earth County … There is no bulletproof glass in that building. If they don’t need it in a brand-new, $42 million building, why do we?”

“Maybe they do,” Belgard replied.

He made a motion to install bulletproof glass. Commissioner Steve Flohrs seconded the motion, which passed 3-2. Pierce and Commissioner Steve Donnelly cast the dissenting votes.

Following the vote, Schmidtke offered a contingency of finding another location for the Assessor’s Office.

“A lot of people think we are part of the courts because of our location,” Whitman said. “I’ve thought about where else we could be located many times.”

Schmidtke said the possibilities for relocating the office will be brought to the building committee and evaluated before going forward with installing bulletproof glass.