Park City meetings: what if tension becomes something more sinister?
March 7, 2019
There can be tension in the room as the Park City Planning Commission debates a development proposal.
On one night, it might be people from across Park City challenging a major development proposal. On another date, a panel meeting may draw a crowd of incensed people from an individual neighborhood, or even one or two streets, in opposition to a smaller project.
The Park City Police Department may post an officer at what are expected to be the most intense meetings, but otherwise there is not visible security at Planning Commission meetings.
The Planning Commission, seen as ranking second in influence of all City Hall's panels behind the Park City Council, at a recent meeting briefly addressed the topic of security. The panelists said little during the meeting. City Hall staffers indicated a new security measure is in place regarding locked doors on the downstairs level of the Marsac Building. Staffers in the room at the time, including City Attorney Mark Harrington, appeared hesitant to discuss the topic of security in any depth during a public meeting.
The Planning Commission will apparently receive a more detailed briefing about security later. It was not clear at the recent meeting whether the upcoming briefing will be exclusively delivered in a closed-door session. Government bodies are allowed to discuss issues related to security in private, something that guards against the release of details about the measures City Hall takes to protect boards and commissions.
John Phillips, the acting chair of the Planning Commission, said in an interview the Police Department previously provided instructions to panel members about what should be done in the event of someone opening fire with a gun during a meeting and other emergency situations. He declined to provide details, citing the sensitive nature of the City Hall security plans.
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Phillips said only two of the current members of the seven-person Planning Commission, including himself, were seated at the time of the most recent Police Department session with the panel. He said the current roster wants the same police briefing.
He acknowledged Planning Commission meetings sometimes become heated, but he said he sees meetings as "completely safe." Phillips said the Planning Commission during his tenure as a panelist has never discussed requesting a police officer be assigned to each meeting. He said he anticipates a closed-door session regarding security by early in the summer.
"I've never felt threatened in any way," Phillips said. "It's unlikely, but it's good for us to know."
Park City in recent years has emphasized security and related issues as part of the municipal government's emergency programs. Mike McComb, who manages the programs for City Hall, is heavily involved with the discussions about security at public meetings like those held by the Planning Commission. He said in an interview officials are toward the beginning of talks about security measures designed to protect the Planning Commission and the audience. McComb said the efforts are not in response to a specific threat against the Planning Commission.
"Tempers can run high. We're seeing an increase in more violent activities in general," McComb said, describing national trends rather than local ones.
He said it is too early in the talks to outline any additional steps that may be taken at Planning Commission meetings. He said any talks about specific security measures would likely be held in closed-door sessions.
McComb said officials just before the Sundance Film Festival in January altered the accessibility to the Marsac Building by restricting public access to the garden-level entry on the west side of the building, atop the stairs to Swede Alley. The move channels the public to the main entry on the second floor on the south side of the building. The garden-level entry remains available to City Hall staffers.