Yesterday morning in Downtown Alexandria, several people witnessed a middle-aged man walking around and subsequently entering a government building clutching a handheld video camera. Apparently, the man was exclusively interested in documenting security features of the building, including the locations of access card entry points, a metal detector (which was turned off at the time), and the sign-in desk for visitors.
Although the man was not breaking any law, his behavior was obviously suspicious, particularly given his focus on the government building’s security. The man showed up unannounced and by himself, and he did not attempt or request to meet personally with anyone who works in the building.
Here’s the kicker: Today, the man posted the video, which he edited down to two and a half minutes, on YouTube. (And no, I’m not linking to it).
Okay, actually, here’s the real kicker: The man’s name is Steve Coco, and he was filming at Alexandria City Hall. Mr. Coco is an elected member of the Rapides Parish Police Jury, and he says he is interested in running for Mayor of Alexandria. The purpose of his rogue “journalism,” if you can call it that, was to illustrate the “fortress” of City Hall. (I suppose we should pay no attention to the fact that he walked right into the building without any incident).
Frankly, I don’t understand what Juror Coco was trying to prove, and as someone who works in that building, I find his flippant dismissal of basic security at a government office building – sign-in sheets and access cards- to be supremely naive and reckless.
Incidentally, if you want to address Mr. Coco at a Police Jury meeting, you’ll have to pass through a metal detector.
But that is beside the point, right?
Dozens of people work in City Hall every day. It is not a fortress, but it’s not a public park or a television studio either.
City Hall is an office building, a place in which people conduct business.
Does this really need to be explained? Is it really too much to ask people to sign-in and identify themselves before they are allowed to roam the halls of government offices? I mean, seriously?
Three years ago, a former City employee entered a downtown law office, apparently angry and distraught over his retirement benefits, murdered two people and injured three others, before he was killed after a protracted stand-off. A few months later, someone threatened to “pull out a gun” on a secretary at City Hall; the person claimed that it was only a joke, but the secretary, rightfully, didn’t find any humor in the threat.
So now, you have to identify yourself before you can roam the halls of Alexandria City Hall, something you have to do in nearly every major city in Louisiana.
There is a huge difference between government transparency and ensuring government employees are secure and safe in their workplace, and it is unfortunate, ignorant, and offensive that Juror Coco is incapable of understanding this.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the nearly 900 City employees and their family members understand and appreciate this difference.
It is truly incredible that an elected official would attempt to mock these basic efforts to ensure for their workplace security; it is a direct insult on the integrity, the courage, and the commitment of those who make their living in service to their community.
It is a purely theatrical spectacle, ostensibly intended for political gain, which, I believe, illustrates a lack of seriousness and a disrespect for those who deserve and require a safe and secure workplace.
I’ve criticized Mr. Coco numerous times in the past, but, to me, this takes the cake: Purposely posting the security features of a government building in order to imply some sort of cowardice and mock public employees is reckless and threatening, particularly if the intention was to exploit and expose the building’s security for political purposes.
Juror Coco may think he is being clever and provocative. He’s not. At all.
He owes the employees of the City of Alexandria a personal apology, and he owes the people of Rapides Parish an explanation about why he refused to acknowledge or disclose that he enjoys the same if not greater security protection in the chambers of the Police Jury.