Although it comes with the job, as an elected official it can still be disheartening when a single-minded activist directly attacks you omitting many facts in an attempt to cause the public to infer something that is just not true. But, the leading voice of the “Concerned Parents of Summit” has done just that in a recently published Letter to the Editor.

All parents, and all residents, of Summit are “concerned” for the safety of our children at all times. But, to continuously attack members of council and the mayor, publically and privately, because we, while having to balance statutory voting requirements along with ensuring maximum access for all voters, do not completely agree with the one and only solution proposed by a single group is reckless, counter-productive and unprofessional.

The fact is it’s not possible to remove all voting from all schools in Summit. And, for every person in town that has demanded we do it, I’ve had another person demand we don’t. There are legal and logistical requirements that make it impossible especially if we are to ensure accessibility to the most vulnerable of our citizens so they can exercise this most basic constitutional right. We’ve discussed this with representatives from the “Concerned Parents” group, including Ms. Keegan, multiple times because we share their desire to protect our children from the risks posed by unrestricted access to our schools that occurs on election days and at numerous other times throughout the year.

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As with any security risk, you assess the threat, your vulnerability to it, and you develop and deploy counter-measures to minimize or eliminate it. I’ve been doing this my entire adult life, all over the world, in extremely high risk areas, for all types of risks including schools and day care facilities. First, as a military officer and now as a security professional where I hold the highest industrial security certification available. Most recently, I led the development and implementation of security programs protecting children’s school, recreational, and medical facilities in a high risk area of a Central American nation. I’ve also led similar efforts in many states and several other countries around the world.

In a sincere attempt to work with Ms. Keegan, each alternative countermeasure I’ve suggested, that would satisfy the regulatory requirements governing voting in the state of New Jersey while also ensuring maximum access to actual voting sights has been met with a high degree of incredulousness and disrespect.

While I have stated it is important we try to comply with the President Obama’s Commission’s recommendation to keep voting in the schools, I also offered solutions that, in my mind, eliminate the primary security threat that exists on election days and many other days throughout the school year. And that is, unrestricted access to parts of school facilities that are otherwise off limits. The solution I proposed is one I have a significant amount of professional experience with – Install a role based access control system, the same type that are already in use in many schools across this country, that would control and monitor critical access points while channeling unauthenticated visitors (voters) directly to the voting areas. I actually made this recommendation to our previous school superintendent in 2012 with the hope it would be included in the $17 million in capital improvements to our schools approved by Common Council two years ago.

The Mayor and members of Common Council take the safety and security of our school children very seriously. To imply we don’t is flat out wrong and insulting. On this very matter, last year’s Safety Committee, that I chaired and consisted of Mayor Dickson and Councilman Dill, authorized the deployment of police officers at our public schools during times of voting. This compliments the other steps we’ve taken to enhance the safety in our schools over the last four years including, among others, authorizing the re-formation of the police active shooter response team along with additional training and the deployment of more effective weapons.

As Ms. Keegan correctly points out, I do believe the threat of a Sandy Hook style active shooter is reduced on election days and the presence of an armed police officer reduces this risk even further. But, no matter what we do on election days, whether it be removing voting completely from the schools, or closing the schools, it does not, reduce the numerous other risks posed by unrestricted access to our schools that is present on many days throughout the school year, including election days, and is the ultimate risk the Concerned Parents group seeks to eliminate.

In the end, Council and the Mayor are guilty of doing their job. Listening to all constituents, and seeking the best solution that complies with election law, keeps our children safe, while not disenfranchising any voters. Every other group, or individual, I have discussed this with remains flexible and open-minded and I respectfully ask the Concerned Parents to be the same.

Patrick Hurley - Member of Common Council