As of last week, there is only one way into city hall – through a metal detector. And visitors can exit only at the door from which they entered.
The only public access to the building is on its south side through the ground-level door facing Hill Street. There are signs directing visitors to the entrance.
Councilwoman Becky Wynn, who on the first day the security measures were imposed was trudging across the circular drive in front of the building to the new employee-only entrance, said the change was “because of all the death threats we received.”
Those threats started inundating city hall after the story of the death of Andrew Wordes, aka “The Chicken Man,” was picked up by what Roswell spokeswoman Julie Brechbill called “the fringe media.”
Wordes first ran afoul of city code in 2009 when a neighbor complained about the flock of backyard chickens at his Alpine Drive home.
A combination of bad luck, ill health, lack of sufficient income, a foreclosure action and according to some of his friends, such as Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, Wordes’ own sometimes contrary and stubborn nature precipitated a downward spiral that culminated March 26 when he apparently blew up his home as county marshals waited to evict him.
Wordes, who died in the blaze, told friends he blamed the city for his problems.
When stories about Wordes’ battles with city code and his fiery end were reported locally, “we had some people call who wanted to know both sides of the story because they didn’t think the media reported both sides,” Brechbill said.
“Eventually, it got into the fringe media, the kind with a lot of conspiracy theories on their websites. They blatantly lied about the facts of the case.
“Several weeks after the incident is when we started getting messages from unstable people all over the country threatening to kill people at city hall and threatening city hall itself.”
Police Chief Dwayne Orrick confirmed the threats appear to be based on a distorted version of the Wordes story.
“People have extrapolated information and not taken the time to verify that information, and what’s being said is frankly, not true,” he said.
City Hall’s security oversight task force suggested years ago that access to the building be limited and visitors checked, but council had never acted on it, Brechbill said. Then, the avalanche of threatening emails and phone messages pushed the security changes to the forefront.
“Was there a catalyst? Yes. But this is something that had been recommended long before this happened,” she said.
Councilman Rich Dippolito, who was one of the elected officials singled out in blogs and Internet posts as being culpable for Wordes’ situation, said he had received some “ugly” emails but hadn’t read all of them.
“I forwarded them to our chief of police. There were some that were personal to me and some to the council in general. You need to take everything like this seriously.”
Orrick, one of the members of the security oversight committee, agreed.
“In today’s environment, you have to be concerned about the potential and try to balance what’s possible with what’s probable,”he said.
Whether or not the security changes are permanent is still an open question. “The Mayor and Council will be discussing the issue at the May 15 Committee meeting and they will determine the final security plan,” City Administrator Kay Love said in an email.