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Work continues to prepare courtroom for new electronics

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HARTINGTON — Technology upgrades are coming to the Cedar County district courtroom to allow videoconferencing capabilities but how to make room for the extra equipment isn’t clear.

Because of the pandemic, the Nebraska Supreme Court opened up the rules to allow civil cases to be conducted through audio and video. And now, the higher court is pushing to have standardized video conferencing capabilities in all courts throughout the state.

The equipment and installation is paid through the Supreme Court, said District Court Clerk Janet Wiechelman.

Some re-wiring and configuring will need to take place. Security, access and enough workspace to accommodate for new electronics as well as old-fashioned paper methods all factor in. And she wants to have the courtroom as prepared as possible because once the contract is signed, new equipment will arrive in about four months.

At the end of its meeting last week, Cedar County commissioners took a firsthand look at the configuration of the judge’s bench and made some suggestions about how to accommodate additional electronics.

Currently, the front of the courtroom contains a half-moon, built up bullet-resistant bench structure with four workplaces - one for Wiechelman, one for District Court Judge Bryan Meismer, one for the court reporter and one used as a witness stand.

County commissioners suggested extending forward a section of the witness stand, making that area smaller and expanding the workspace for the adjacent court reporter. For security, a U-shaped wall or border could be built around the witness stand.

Another idea is to leave the witness stand area as is and extend forward the court reporter workspace, essentially angling it to achieve more space.

Another idea was to add a court reporter desk in front of the bench. And yet another suggestion was to move the whole bench structure up about two feet so that depth can be added to the workspaces that already exist.

“I sure hate changing the looks of that bench,” said Commissioner David McGregor.

While every idea had merit, the commissioners agreed for Wiechelman to discuss potential changes with Randy Kathol who will be doing the work required.

Weichelman will also run the suggestions by Meismer to gain his input.

The commissioners also:

- Reviewed a bridge inspection report of 21 “fracture critical” bridges in the county.

- Heard about a $70,000 grant received to do a tire collection event.

- Approved a conditional use permit for Mitchell Sudbeck to put a house on land zoned commercial.

- Approved a building permit for Ted Thelen to build a home.

- Approved the lease of a motor grader.

- Discussed increases in gravel prices.

- Heard about a Yankton company which has agreed to reface signs.

- Approved three property tax corrections as presented by the county assessor’s office involving property from the Magnet area.

- Approved a fire district property change to allow for a property that was split between Belden and Randolph fire districts to be included in its entirety in the Randolph fire district. The board received a letter from the property owner, Belden Fire Chief and Randolph Fire Chief all approving the change.

- Reviewed year-end reports regarding zoning permits, conditional use permits, building permits and variances.