When you question officialdom about the City-County Building (CCB) parking garage, which for 10 years has been shut to the public tighter than a sumo wrestler’s belt, you get a good deal of reports and justifications.
The people providing the reports and justifications are well-meaning and helpful. They also get to park in the garage, so it’s a bit like being told, “I hear you knockin’, but you can’t come in.” There are voices that say the public must be denied use of the garage for security reasons.
If the garage, which holds 825 slots, were re-opened to the huddled masses of taxpayers yearning to park freely in the building paid for with their tax dollars, other—and perhaps louder—voices would be those of hundreds of inconvenienced government employees and officials who have enjoyed private parking for nearly a decade.
The garage was closed in March 2003, after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom—though there still appears to be no evidence Saddam Hussein and his generals were plotting an assault on the CCB.
The garage has remained closed to the public except for various special events. During weekdays, its use is principally for government employees, members meeting for city and county boards and commissions, and elected officials.
On May 18, 2010, a City-County-Public Building Authority committee (made up of nine city and county employees, officeholders, the PBA head, and one non-government affiliated citizen added to the committee after its organization) submitted a review of parking at the CCB.
The committee was provided four security-related reports relative to the CCB Garage. These reports, the committee said, were: “Security Master Planning (July 1994), Counter Technology, Inc. (December 2001), the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (December 2005), and a Knoxville Chief of Police letter (March 2006).”
With respect to public access to the garage, the committee, perhaps predictably, found the following: “The committee believes there are valid security reasons to keep the CCB Garage closed to the public. The committee also believes there is adequate parking at both the Main Avenue and Kessel garages to support any near-term public needs for parking to conduct business at the CCB.”
In short: “I hear you knockin’, but you can’t come in.”
According to the PBA, garage access is available to:
869 employee parkers (paid and handicapped), including some second- and third-shift employees. [Note: employees presently pay $47.50 per month to park in the garage; in January 2013 the price will increase to $60. At the Dwight Kessel Garage, a block away from the CCB, government employees pay $30 per month compared to the normal $55 per month charge.]
608 individuals who serve on City or County boards or committees, for whom free parking is available on meeting days (though some apparently have more frequent access) and several off-site employees who occasionally park in the garage; another 112 handicapped employees park free.
PBA contractors, City and County vendors, news media, and attorneys, for whom 211 cards are available. Judges asked for the cards for attorneys as they are “officers of the court” and also transport sensitive evidence that the judges feel isn’t appropriate to have screened by security; the number of these cards can vary week to week.
Various judges, and used for visiting judges or attorneys who sit in the stead of a local judge (4th Circuit, primarily).
Let’s see: That is approximately 1,700 parking cards, passes, or whatever, in circulation. To paraphrase Truman Capote’s criticism of another writer (“That’s not writing, that’s typing”): That’s not security, that’s priority parking.
Security can be used to justify almost any restriction of the public. When security consultants and specialists are asked if a building needs more security, it’s much like asking an insurance agent if people could use more insurance or inquiring of a car dealer if people ought to buy more cars. Just exactly what answer would you expect?
Any amateur can look at the CCB and figure out there’s no way to make the building secure unless you seal it off, close the streets around it, and set up checkpoints to examine every person and car entering the sterilized “green zone.” Aren’t “security consultants” just wiping the saliva off their chins thinking about the opportunity to make something, anything, more “secure”?
No bureaucracy likes to admit that it went too far or wasn’t justified in its actions. Is the CCB unsecure? Absolutely. Why? For the simple reason that we live in a free society where we shouldn’t fortify our public buildings as if they were U.S. embassies in third-world war zones.
Yes, something could happen at the CCB, just as it could at the John J. Duncan Federal Building, the Howard Baker Federal Courthouse, the TVA Towers, the University of Tennessee, KUB, a private business, or anything or anyplace else against which someone might have a grudge.
Do we go on immediate citywide lockdown?
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s office says this about the CCB garage: “The mayor is not opposed to opening the City-County Building parking garage to the public as long as it makes sense to do so and law enforcement agencies’ safety concerns are addressed. Mayor Burchett does not have sole authority to open the garage to public use. PBA manages the parking garage, and their policy is that if both mayors agree, they will re-open the garage.”
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s office said the following: “The issue of access to the CCB parking garage was studied in detail by a joint city-county committee two years ago; there are no plans right now to revisit the issue.”
Unless people start knockin’ and askin’ to come in.