Planning board endorses concealed-carry amendment

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2014

Editor’s note: This article has been changed to reflect a correction in the Planning Board vote on a proposed text amendment and to add a comment from Blake Jarman, the board member who voted against the amendment.

By Scott Jenkins
Rowan County is a step closer to allowing people who hold concealed-carry permits to take their guns into county parks and buildings.
But elected and appointed officials may be no nearer to figuring out how to square that right with concerns about the public and county employees going armed into county departments, and sometimes into tense situations.
The Rowan County Planning Board voted 8-1 Monday night to recommend to the Board of Commissioners an amendment to county ordinances that would let handgun owners with concealed-carry permits bring the guns onto county property.
The board also voted 9-0 to oppose a two-year timeline developed by five county departmental directors and County Manager Gary Page that would immediately allow concealed-carry in parks but delay it for other properties while safety and liability concerns were addressed.
That timeline “is still going to go to the Board of Commissioners, it’s just going to go … from the department heads,” without the planning board’s backing, Chairman Rip Kersey said.
The amendment is meant to bring the county into compliance with North Carolina law written to ensure uniform rules across the state for concealed-carry permit holders. The law allows those permit holders to take their guns into parks and other recreational facilities.
But it’s less clear on local government buildings, saying boards can “adopt an ordinance to permit the posting of a prohibition against carrying a concealed handgun … on local government buildings and their appurtenant premises.”
County Planning Director Ed Muire said that means it’s up to the local governments whether they want to allow concealed handguns in those buildings. Planning Board member Joe Coladarci said he doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“My understanding is, we believe as a group, the state legislature has in fact opened up county property to … concealed-carry people,” Coladarci said. “Whether they be an employee or a citizen of the county, they have that right.”
Regardless of the disagreement over the General Assembly’s intent, county commissioners also asked the planning board to make a recommendation on opening up county-owned buildings to gun owners with concealed-carry permits.
Planning Board Blake Jarman cast the lone dissenting vote on the text amendment Monday. He said afterwards if the county has to let gun owners carry in parks to comply with state law, that’s fine, but if it’s not forced to let them carry guns into buildings, it shouldn’t.
And Jarman said he doesn’t want residents to feel they can’t voice their concerns on the matter, even when it goes to commissioners.
“I think it’s OK for … citizens not to like guns … and not feel like it’s wrong to have an opinion that you shouldn’t carry guns in some places,” he said.
The planning board in March voted to recommend the changes, but the issue came back to them when directors of county departments raised concerns and pointed out that, not only would the general public be allowed to carry guns, but so would employees.
Among the questions the department heads asked: What about the Department of Social Services, where employees often deal with abusive parents. And what happens when an employee carrying a handgun has to be fired?
“We’re not necessarily against this, but we want — in an overabundance of caution — to be prepared,” Muire said. “It’s not to prevent this from happening. It’s anticipating the worst-case scenario.”
A committee including Muire, Sheriff Kevin Auten and Social Services Director Donna Fayko recommended hiring a law firm with expertise in personnel and firearms concerns to develop a policy and advise on liability concerns, and to delay allowing guns in county buildings until that’s accomplished. They also recommended training in workplace violence, self-defense and threat recognition, as well as giving supervisors the option having law enforcement present for disciplinary hearings and firings.
And they recommended installing metal detectors at all county-owned buildings and having law enforcement stationed at them.
Coladarci said he was “shocked” by the proposals and wanted to “make a statement in the negative that we’ve reviewed (the departmental directors’ recommended plan) and don’t find it appropriate.”
Others expressed concern over the potential cost, especially of installing metal detectors at county buildings.
“I think anybody sitting here would have an issue with a recommendation like that,” board member Reid Walters said. He added, though, that he wasn’t sure the planning board had answered all the questions it had been asked to answer.
Muire said the proposals by directors are “just suggestions. The (Board of Commissioners) is going to do whatever they feel is the most appropriate thing to do.”