I was surprised during a recent visit to the City of New London on a weekday morning to find that the front door was locked. There is already an intercom in the lobby to call the department you want to visit.
In fact, I was there to review some files in the inheritance court and used my cell phone to call the court clerk, who then had to come to the front door of the town hall to let me go. It certainly seemed like a waste of time.
So what’s the deal with locking up a public building and restricting public access during a routine weekday?
I asked this in an email to Mayor Michael Pasero.
Maybe this is some new trend I’ve missed, I thought. But no, after looking around, I couldn’t find other municipal buildings in the region or state that are locked so that the public doesn’t dare.
In fact, New London’s own financial office on the other side of City Hall’s Masonic Street is open as always, and members of the public can enter directly. Of course, the neighboring United States Postal Service is open and welcoming.
Mayor Pasero told me in an email that the new system was introduced about 18 months ago, during the restrictions of COVID-19 and the start of a construction project in the town hall.
With the easing of the rules for COVID-19 and the almost completed construction, the mayor wrote, the employees were consulted and they decided to keep the policy locked.
“The huge consensus was that the system provides a minimum level of security for their workplace, which they find reassuring today,” the mayor wrote. “They also thought it worked well to help people focus on the service they were looking for.
“City Hall officials thought that in the past, people often wandered around the building disappointed, trying to find the office and service they needed, and were often even in the wrong building,” he wrote.
Other busy town halls have security guards or receptionists at the front door, but this is not possible in New London due to the price, the mayor added. He also noted that the system was deactivated when a major event was planned in the building.
I’ve been going in and out of town for about 40 years, and I’ve never seen anyone wander lost. It’s really not that big. There are many signs. And everyone you see will be happy to point you in the right direction.
If there have been incidents or threats that make security concerns for employees, then the city must pay for what it costs to have a warden or security guard at the front door. The intercom and the locked glass door that someone comes to open are hardly safe.
Unattended, a locked front door of a public building sends a terrible message. What if someone just wants to take a walk and admire the historic building, just renovated at great expense for taxpayers?
Not only is the front door of State Street to City Hall locked, but the back entrance, on Masonic Street, is completely closed to the public, indicating that it is for employee use only.
I often see the same Jaguar parked for hours on Masonic Street in places in front of the post office marked for a 30-minute limit. I guess, since there is never a ticket on it, it is a city official’s car, conveniently parked in front of the new door only for employees on this side of the town hall. The post office has its own parking lot.
Even a private business that is not supported by tax dollars cannot withstand this level of street parking privilege.
Locking a public building, when it needs to be open to the public who owns and maintains it, seems to me to be a bad public policy.
I hope that the mayor will consider canceling the employees who, in his opinion, have asked for this. Let the public into their building without asking permission.
This is the opinion of David Collins.