The removal of trees and bushes from the courthouse grounds by city crews in the last few weeks is part of long-overdue security upgrades to ensure court officials can keep a better eye on what’s going on, according to Calhoun County Circuit Clerk Eli Henderson.
“This is what they’re doing all over the country,” Henderson said. “Just making sure there aren’t people hiding where they shouldn’t be.”
Security has changed drastically at the courthouse in the span of about 15 years, said Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade. In 1998, the first county courthouse security panel was established, consisting of the sheriff and other court personnel, specifically to address making the courthouse safer.
“It used to be you could just walk in the courthouse, no deputy there, no metal detector,” Wade said. “We’ve come a long way since then.”
The most recent changes, including the removal of bushes and trees close to exterior walls, have all been Henderson’s suggestions, Wade said. Future steps will include installation of additional security cameras and updating signs that had been obscured by the now cut-down plants.
Wade said the Sheriff’s Office, which handles security at the courthouse, has been impressed by Henderson’s suggestions.
“Have we ever had anybody hiding in bushes? Not necessarily,” Wade said. “But have we had people come into the courthouse at inappropriate times. Absolutely, the courthouse is a dangerous place.”
Clearing the land has also improved the appearance of courthouse grounds. Henderson said in the next few weeks courthouse staff will plant flowers in the newly revealed spaces, thereby giving the courthouse a more inviting look.
Tending to aesthetics around the courthouse isn’t ordinarily part of the circuit clerk's job -- it's actually work that belongs with Henderson’s previous duties as county commissioner.
“Some of this stuff should have been done years ago, and I’m just as guilty as anybody else,” said Henderson, who resigned from the commission earlier this year to take the circuit clerk’s office. “But now that I spend all my time here, I see what needs to be done.”
While the purpose of removing trees and bushes is first and foremost to enhance courthouse security, Henderson said the work has also allowed him to indulge in his love of history. Removing bushes at the former front entrance revealed a stone plaque bearing the names of the four Calhoun County commissioners who presided over the original courthouse construction in 1900. The names, according to Henderson, aren’t located anywhere inside the building — an oversight he’d like to correct in the near future.
Henderson is also holding out hope that all the maintenance work will lead to some clues about where a time capsule might be buried on the property. So far, Henderson said, all that exists of the mysterious time capsule are rumors.
“But I bet you there’s someone out there who knows where it is,” Henderson said.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.