I was surprised during a recent visit to New London City Hall, on a weekday morning, to find the front door locked. There’s now an intercom in the vestibule to call the department you want to visit.
I was actually there to look at some files in Probate Court, and I used my cellphone to call the court clerk, who then had to come to the City Hall front door to let me in. It sure seemed like a waste of her time.
So what’s the deal with locking up a public building and limiting public access during a routine weekday?
That’s what I asked in an email to Mayor Michael Passero.
Maybe this is some new trend I’ve missed, I thought to myself. But, no, after checking around, I couldn’t find any other municipal buildings in the region or the state that are locked up to keep the public from venturing in.
Indeed, New London’s own finance office across Masonic Street from City Hall is open as always, and members of the public are able to walk right in. Of course, the United States Post office next door is open and welcoming.
Mayor Passero told me in an email that the new system was put in place about 18 months ago, during COVID-19 restrictions and for the start of a construction project at City Hall.
With the easing of COVID-19 rules and construction almost complete, the mayor wrote, employees were consulted and they decided to keep the locked door policy in place.
“The overwhelming consensus was that the system provided a minimal level of security for their workplace that they found reassuring in this day and age,” the mayor wrote. “They also felt it worked well to help direct people to the service they were looking for.
“City Hall staff felt that, in the past, very often people were wandering around the building, frustrated, attempting to find the office and service they needed and were often even in the wrong building,” he wrote.
Other busy city halls have guards or greeters at the front door, but that is not possible in New London because of the cost, the mayor added. He also noted the system is disabled when a large event is planned in the building.
I’ve been in and out of City Hall for some 40 years and I’ve never seen anyone wandering around lost. It’s really not that big. There are lots of signs. And anyone you see would be glad to point you in the right direction.
If there have been incidents or threats that make security worries a concern for employees, then the city should pay what it costs to have a supervisor or guard at the front door. An intercom and a locked glass door that someone comes to open is hardly security.
An unattended, locked front door to a public building sends a terrible message. What if someone simply wants to stroll through and admire the historical building, just renovated at great expense to taxpayers?
Not only is the front State Street door to City Hall locked, but the rear entrance, on Masonic Street, is completely closed to the public, with a sign saying it is for use only by employees.
I often see the same Jaguar parked for hours on end on Masonic Street, in spaces in front of the post office marked for a 30-minute limit. I presume, since there’s never a ticket on it, that this is a city employee’s car, parked conveniently in front of the new, employee-only door on that side of City Hall. Postal workers have their own parking lot.
Even a private business, one not supported by tax dollars, couldn’t pull off that level of street parking privilege.
Locking up a public building when it should be open to the public, which owns and supports it, strikes me as bad public policy.
I hope the mayor would consider overruling the employees who he says have asked for it. Let the public into their building without having to ask permission.
This is the opinion of David Collins.