A member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners has voted against an updated personnel policy for the city government over its ban on weapons being brought onto municipal property.
“Let me say I’ve never brought a gun into the meetings,” Commissioner Deborah Cochran assured when the council convened last Thursday night and voted 4-1 to modernize the policy. It was last amended in 2003 and initially presented to the board in July.
“I do have my concealed-carry (permit),” added Cochran,” who cited concerns for personal safety as a reason for being armed while on city grounds — specifically the Municipal Building where officials meet.
“Sometimes we leave late after closed sessions,” Cochran explained regarding meetings that can last into the night, when the commissioners and others must walk to their vehicles in the darkness.
“And we don’t always leave at the same time,” she said.
In that vein, Cochran had problems with a portion of the lengthy new personnel policy (56 pages) covering many topics, which states:
“No person, either paid or volunteer, is permitted to possess any firearm or other dangerous weapon while performing city duties, including while on any city property, in any city-owned vehicle, or in any personal vehicle used by the employee to perform duties.”
The policy adds, “it also is prohibited for any employee/volunteer to have a firearm or other dangerous weapon in any personal vehicle parked on city property while the employee/volunteer is performing his/her duty. The only employees exempt from this policy are law enforcement personnel. These employees must follow the guidelines established by the chief of police.”
“Is there an exception for someone who has their concealed-carry (permit)?” asked Cochran, who said that after leaving the nighttime sessions, “I may go somewhere else — and I’m alone.”
But the answer to that is “no,” based another passage in the policy: “The prohibitions stated in this section apply to all employees/volunteers regardless of whether (they possess) a concealed-carry permit.”
City Human Resources Director Susan Jones, who played a key role in updating the 20-year-old personnel policy, said the weapons ban is aimed at reducing the liability risk for the municipality. This is a concern if a shooting, perhaps accidental, occurs on its property and kills or injures someone.
“Susan worked hand in with the police chief on this issue,” Interim City Manager Darren Lewis advised during Thursday night’s discussion leading to the board’s vote on the personnel policy in which Cochran was the lone dissenter.
Jones suggested that commissioners and others present can make sure they leave in a group in order to stay safe.
Aside from the need for personal protection, Cochran offered a constitutional reason for her stance, while acknowledging there are concerns about disgruntled employees possibly acting in a violent manner — which has occurred elsewhere.
“I’m passionate for gun rights,” said Cochran, a former mayor of Mount Airy in addition to serving as a commissioner.
She reminded those in attendance that in January 2020, the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting Second Amendment gun rights. In doing so, it proclaimed Surry as a “Constitutional Rights Protection County.”
Through that action, the county board stated that it will not use taxpayer money or resources to take away any law-abiding citizens’ guns or restrict their rights under the Second Amendment.
It states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”