Kootenai County is providing its own security at the county courthouse after ending a long-standing contract with Watson Agency and hiring away most of the company’s courthouse staff.
Today is the first day the county is in charge of screening people for weapons and other contraband when they enter the two courthouse buildings on Garden Avenue.
The county hired six people to work the scanning and X-ray equipment, five of whom were already doing the job for Watson Agency.
County Commissioner Rick Currie said it was an economic decision and that there was no problem with the local agency that had provided security services for more than a decade.
Having in-house security will cost the county about the same amount of money as contracting with Watson Agency, but it will provide a training ground for bailiffs – the guards who transfer inmates at the courthouse and provide security inside individual courtrooms, Currie said.
He didn’t have information on the amount of the Watson contract or how much it will cost the county to take over services.
County Finance Director David McDowell also wasn’t available for comment.
Watson Agency isn’t happy with how the county communicated the reason for the contract termination or that the county hired away five of its employees. The agency, which has more than 300 employees, was founded and later sold by Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson. Senior vice president Dale Crews said Currie told him the current bailiffs were taking over security duties. Then he discovered last week that his employees were quitting without giving two weeks’ notice.
“They certainly indicated in writing and in verbal communication that the change was for financial reasons,” Crews said. “That, in whole honesty, doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Yet Crews said that shows that there is no problem with the service Watson Agency was providing.
“If there was, why would they in turn hire 90 percent of our security staff?” Crews asked.
Currie said the chief bailiff will oversee the new security guards, and that is perhaps what caused the misunderstanding with Crews.
“We certainly didn’t mean to mislead him,” Currie said.
Chief Bailiff Gomer Davis said he hired the Watson Agency employees because they “have a great deal of experience and are eager to work for the county.”
The county also must provide its own X-ray and scanning equipment. Federal homeland security grants will pay for two X-ray machines, and the county will pay for the third. Currie didn’t know the cost of the machines.
Watson Agency removed its X-ray equipment from the courthouse Tuesday night.
At one point, Currie said there was a dispute over who owned the equipment, but that was worked out.
Crews disagreed, alleging that the county still claims it owns a machine used to scan mail. He said Watson Agency bought the machine for use in the courthouse.
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