By: Jeremy Handel Staff Writer
While it’s hard to say anything truly “good” has come out of the more than year-long battle we have fought with the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Woodruff was able to take advantage of an opportunity through a stimulus fund program to make some important upgrades to its local courtroom and city council chambers.
Through the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program at the South Carolina Office of Highway Safety, the City of Woodruff and the Woodruff Police Department secured a grant for approximately $51,000. The funding provided for the purchase of PPE and safety equipment for officers and some technology upgrades at City Hall.
Chief Greg Ryan said the upgrades provide some essential improvements for the police department and the City court, allowing them to operate better while maintaining proper physical distancing.
“Having these new systems in place allows us to continue to provide face-to-face service, but limits close contact,” he said.
With the funds – in addition to the needed PPE for officers – the City could purchase and install new video cameras, microphones, monitors, a large display screen, and the accompanying computer equipment in the combination courtroom and city council chambers. The police department was also able to install a two-way communication system with video screens in the police lobby to allow interaction between the public and the officer on duty while again limiting physical contact.
Another significant advantage of the new system is the ability to conduct court proceedings with proper physical distancing or even remotely via tele-court. During much of the pandemic, the court system has been shut down, which has caused issues in people facing legal proceedings or charges having their proper day in court.
“Right now, all face-to-face court proceedings are shut down, so cases can be on hold for a long time,” Chief Ryan said. With the new system, Woodruff can provide people with an option to have their case heard in a timely manner. According to Chief Ryan, Woodruff is currently the only municipality with the tele-court option.
The technology upgrades also allow Woodruff to resume hearings for livability court, addressing items like code violations. Unaddressed code violations can lead to the continuing deterioration of properties and become severe safety issues in the community. Moving these issues through court allows the City to enforce repairs and upkeep.
In addition to the court’s advantages, the new technology has also benefitted the Woodruff City Council in the shared space. Sound can tend to be an issue in the open room, but the new microphones have greatly improved hearing discussion among the council members. The staff can also utilize the display screens to present the agenda and any other items for both the council members and the audience.
City Manager Lee Bailey said the technology also allows the staff to record the meetings, saving staff time in preparing minutes of the meetings and other staff responsibilities. It also will better accommodate conducting remote meetings if the need should arise again.
Through another grant for approximately $25,000, the City was also able to recoup some funds spent early in the pandemic on PPE and other safety equipment and upgrading the City’s phone system and server to better allow for remote working, Bailey said.
The new upgrades will provide benefits into the future, and the City was appreciative of the opportunity to make them without dipping into city funds.