The Knox County Commissioners met Tuesday in executive session to discuss the suspension of county attorney Yvette Kirchoff, but they have made no final decision on her future as a county employee.
A decision regarding Kirchoff's employment was expected as “county attorney” was placed on the agenda for Tuesday's regular meeting, which followed the executive session.
But the agenda item was struck at the last minute per commission president Kellie Streeter’s request.
Action, she announced to those gathered in the commissioners room at the courthouse, “is yet to be decided, and we’ll entertain it at a future meeting.”
Streeter said Kirchoff's suspension remains in place for the time being, and they're relying on guidance from interim county attorney Graham Dycus, HartBell LLC, 513 Main St., to see them through the process of finding a resolution.
Kirchoff has retained legal counsel with an Indianapolis attorney, and he and Dycus are reportedly in regular communication.
The suspension, county officials say, stems from an incident at the courthouse on Aug. 23.
Kirchoff, in a display of opposition, removed an early Confederate-era flag from its post next to the Civil War monument, took it inside the courthouse and, according to multiple reports, stomped on it in frustration and anger.
The flag in question was not the Confederate flag largely associated with white supremacist groups but, rather, the flag used by the Confederacy for a brief time in 1861.
A set of seven flags is erected adjacent to the monument every Memorial Day by members of the Marine Corps League and left up, usually, through Labor Day.
Streeter said she first received an anonymous complaint concerning the Confederate flag in late May. She wasn't familiar with the flag or its history; still, she ordered it taken down, and for many weeks, that pole was empty.
The commissioners later, having heard no other complaints, ordered it put back up; they argue they weren't familiar with its origins nor did they fully research it.
Things took a direct turn when local attorney Michael Edwards, a Marine Corps veteran, saw the flag and notified Kirchoff, among other local elected officials.
Kirchoff eventually returned the flag to courthouse maintenance crews and it was put back up.
Streeter, however, ordered it be taken back down, eventually replacing it with an Indiana state flag instead. She has said now that everyone is fully aware of the flag's history, it will never again be raised outside the courthouse.
Members of the Marine Corps League, too, say they meant only to honor the Confederate dead in a peaceful way and are eager to put the whole ordeal behind them.
Kirchoff has said she has no comment regarding the incident or the subsequent suspension.
The commissioners also on Tuesday voted to seek from the county council an additional appropriation of funds — to the tune of about $37,000 — for electronic hardware for doors, both interior and exterior, across the entire courthouse complex, which includes the annex, Central Dispatch, etc.
Streeter announced last year that the commissioners had applied for and received a state Homeland Security grant to pay for much-needed additional security equipment at the courthouse.
The $76,000 grant requires no match and even paid for a needs assessment, i.e. a security professional to come in, look extensively at the courthouse and advise how best to implement the new security measures.
The grant is enough to cover security needs including an x-ray machine, a magnetometer (a type of metal detector), hand wands and even lockers for visitors.
It also includes the purchase of an entirely new identification system for county elected officials, employees and contracted vendors to use to enter the courthouse after-hours as well as the computers and software to run it.
It doesn't, however, cover the cost of the new electronic hardware needed for both interior and exterior doors.
Streeter said the public will begin to see the changes take place early next year.
It will all be implemented in phases, she said, to make it as easy as possible for the public.
They will start with additional signage warning visitors of the pending security changes. For instance, everyone will, when the security improvements are in place, be funneled through the Seventh Street entrance — the one with the ramp.
The “back door” — or the one off Eighth Street — will, at some point, remain locked.
Commissioner Tim Ellerman worried about how the public will respond, especially since the parking lot is designed to send people to the Eighth Street side.
“We may need to look at parking reassignments,” he said, to which the other two commissioners nodded in agreement.
“I just hope we can make it to where (the courthouse) is easy for the public to access,” Ellerman said. “We need to make sure it's secure but a friendly place to come.
“And I hope that's manageable because I hate to think we'll be locking out the very people who are paying for the courthouse.”
Streeter said every effort would be made to make the changes comfortable.
“It's going to take time,” she said. “And people aren't going to like it.
“But it's 2020, and it's been a long time coming. I've talked to several department heads and elected officials about incidents that have occurred, bags that have been left, strangers lurking. So it is what it is. It's not going to be a great inconvenience, but it will be change.
“And we all know how that goes.”