The Laurel Museum’s 15th Anniversary event offered me a reminder of what’s good about a small town. A recent visit to Laurel City Hall suggested that we may have lost an important element of that.
The Museum’s 15th brought together more than 90 folks to celebrate a local institution that’s been a great partnership between the LHS and the City of Laurel (disclosure, I’m very active in the LHS). There were past LHS members, representatives of the 1996 Mayor and Council, and also the current LHS officers, and Mayor and City Council. Conversations were fun, polite and the pols – past and present – were all very accessible.
My visit to Laurel City Hall last Friday to pick up the generously loaned sound system for Sunday revealed something else. The city has installed an intimidating glass/plexiglas wall right inside the reception area that runs along the front desk and ends in a floor to ceiling wall with an electronic door.
There’s not even room on the reception desk to leave an envelope bigger than a letter. Anyone wanting to go past the front reception desk now has to talk through a small cut-out and push ID through it, to get a badge--which you needed before. Visitors, once approved, have to be buzzed in to enter. I’m sure the city feels security reasons required this.
Personally, I found this sad, and disturbing. Something important has been lost—for both residents and city employees with this wall’s installation. In a small town like Laurel, officials and city employees are people you know, and to whom you can talk. There is a feeling that we’re all in this together.
This new entrance is a both a physical and psychological barrier, locking out the public and essentially dividing city employees from their constituents. The new barrier at the Laurel Municipal Center sets up a we-versus-them feeling. With the public being the “them” on the outside. The goal may be security, but the fact is a wall like this says “we think you are a threat, and we don’t trust you to come into OUR building.”
Laurel is a better place than that. It shouldn’t divide its citizens from their government. So, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan I say: “ Mr. Mayor, tear down that wall!”