Commissioners set public hearing on concealed carry on county property

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2014

After months of study by county officials, residents will have their say in a couple of weeks on a proposal to allow people with concealed-carry permits to take their handguns onto county owned property.
Rowan County commissioners voted Monday night to set a Sept. 2 public hearing on the proposed amendment to county ordinances. The meeting starts at 3 p.m. on the second floor of the county government building, 130 W. Innes St.
They’ll take a little more time to develop a policy for employees.
Part of the proposed amendment brings the county into compliance with state law, which says concealed-carry permit holders have a right to carry their firearms at parks, including those owned by counties. The law is more ambiguous on county government buildings.
Commissioners asked the county planning board to study the matter earlier this year, and that board voted in July to recommend the amendment that would allow the handguns on all county-owned property.
On Monday, several commissioners expressed concern about a part of the law that says if a school-related function is taking place at a park, then that area is considered educational and concealed-carry permit holders are still barred from carrying their handguns there.
The amendments propose posting a notice at the entrance of a park when such an activity is taking place, but Commissioner Chad Mitchell asked how that would work at Dan Nicholas Park, where frequent student field trips move from place to place.
“My question is, how do we get that information out there, and how do we make it enforceable law?” he said.
County Planning Director Ed Muire said he didn’t know the answer, but pointed out that posting a notice isn’t required by law and that people with concealed-carry permits are expected to know where they can and can’t take their handguns.
Commissioner Mike Caskey, who had the manual for the concealed-carry course with him at the meeting, agreed.
“You do have to take responsibility when you take this course and get a permit,” he said.
A permit holder can be charged with a misdemeanor for carrying a handgun onto an area considered educational — even if he doesn’t know that area is being used for that purpose. Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said he didn’t see why the designation of a property should change based on a temporary use.
“To me, I think we’re opening up a very gray area here that’s going to trap a lot of people unintentionally,” he said.
Commissioners also had questions about the effect of having a federal employee with an office in a county building, since guns are prohibited in federal buildings. Jay Dees, the county’s attorney, said it’s “an unsettled question.”
Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides asked Dees and Muire to look into the issues raised by board members.
Commissioners also agreed to ask the county’s risk manager and human resources director to recommend a training plan for county employees, since the proposed ordinance change would also allow them to bring handguns to work, if they hold concealed-carry permits.
A group of department heads pointed out concerns they had with employees coming to work armed and recommended a delay in opening up government buildings to concealed-carry permit holders while safety and liability issues were addressed.
Among their recommendations were 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 of 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.
Commissioners didn’t express support for those measures, but agreed that employees should get training.
“We have a completely different set of issues with regard to concealed carry in the workplace,” Dees said.
The board agreed to look at the proposed training plan at its Oct. 6 meeting.
In other business, commissioners:
• Approved a bid to renovate about 1,600 square feet at West End Plaza for a new Rowan County Veteran Services Office. LaFave’s Construction submitted the low bid of $91,700. LaFave’s is also renovation about 10,000 square feet at the former Salisbury Mall for a new county Board of Elections office.
• Heard a presentation from Tsunami Development Literacy Program representatives detailing their plans to help improve literacy among Rowan children. The organization has asked for space at West End Plaza. The board will consider a written agreement and lease in September.
• Honored County Manager Gary Page, who is retiring at the end of the month after six years in Rowan County and nearly four decades in government. The board gave Page a plaque and a painting to hang on the wall of the home in the mountains where he and his wife will live in retirement.
• Agreed to allow a dinner honoring veterans to be hosted in the former JC Penney at West End Plaza.
• Approved two lease amendments at West End Plaza.
• Adopted a proclamation supporting RumbleQuake, a planned Nov. 8 motorcycle parade to honor veterans.