At Monday's Ford County commissioners meeting, the debate was raised about continuing to allow non-government related events to take place in the lobby of the Ford County Government Center.


Currently, the public can make requests to use the lobby area for limited events.


The Lora-Locke Hotel building that currently houses county offices was once a shining jewel in Dodge City's crown when it opened in 1928. The luxurious rooms and posh amenities contrasted sharply with the wind-swept, rural cowtown outside, and the hotel quickly became a cultural center point.


Ford County saved the building from demolition by purchasing the property in 1989 and it has housed the Ford County government offices since 1991.


The ornate lobby with elaborate wrought iron workings, arched lentils, and original woodwork still draws visitors wanting to get a peek at Dodge City's past.


“I loved it the very first time I walked in the building,” county administrator JD Gilbert said.


“It’s an amazing piece of architecture,” said commissioner Shawn Tasset. "It almost transports you back in time but it’s just empty. We don’t utilize it at all. I’d really like to see how we can utilize that area better."


Staffing and liability concerns could slow attempts to expand usage of the space. The railing around the mezzanine level is very low and represents a fall hazard. There were suggestions of possibly roping off the stairway, but a rope and warning sign would not necessarily keep people from sneaking up the stairs.


Tasset and Commissioner Chris Boys said that getting policy clarified is the primary point of concern. Boys said that right now the public can basically make requests for events as long as they are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tasset said he is uncertain about any specific policy.


"I don't know that there are rules saying they can use it," Tasset said, "but I know there are none saying they can't. We have a great historical building there and we work to preserve it. There's a lot of great history and character and architecture there that folks are drawn to."


"I would like people to utilize the building," Boys said Tuesday. “I just want to make sure it's a quality event they are doing. I want to make sure that what they are doing is not going to harm the historical look of the building."


As a designated historic site, the building cannot be easily modified to accommodate safety concerns.


Gilbert noted that the space would often be requested on weekends and evenings, so staffing constraints and overtime would be serious considerations.


County Clerk Debbie Cox pointed out that senior pictures for high school graduates are often taken in the lobby.


Commissioner Ken Snook would prefer to limit the building to county use only. Snook made a motion to restrict all public usage.


“I realize it's a grandiose place, but at the same time it's a government building,” Snook said.


"The history of that lobby and the beauty that it holds are something that I would like the public to be able to enjoy," Tasset said.


Snook said that while he appreciates that the public enjoys the building, he sees no reason the county should allow private events in its center of business.


"We have all kinds of county offices and things in that building," Snook said Tuesday. "How do I know if people will be going upstairs. I don't think they need to be in that building. I don't see any advantage in doing that. I don't think there's any advantage to our community to do it."


Gilbert ultimately suggested tabling the issue for further discussion and allowing the policy committee and county counsel Glenn Kerbs a chance to draft more specific rules.


Snook's motion ultimately failed, with Boys and Tasset voting to continue to allow some usage.


Boys moved to direct county administration to work on policy concerning non-government usage of the building and put the issue on the next meeting agenda.


"I would like to have the space used," Boys said Tuesday. “I would like to see what the policy would look like."


Boys’ motion passed with he and Tasset voting for further consideration and Snook voting against.


Commissioners received updates on several topics from Dodge City Ford County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Joann Knight.


Knight said that workforce development is the number one issue in the community and across the state concerning potential delays in growth of the economy.


The EDC is still working on drawing a mid-level medical college to the area. Surveys have gone out to members of the medical community to gauge interest and support.


Knight said her organization had recently joined the World Economic Development Alliance, an organization that helps companies looking to expand or relocate identify communities with suitable sites.


“This is for targeted recruitment of small manufacturers," Knight said. "I'm hoping that helps us get some of our buildings filled with smaller businesses and some recognition about the opportunities in Dodge City."


Sunflower Power is starting a new certified sites program and the company has asked Ford County to be its first community. The company will certify both industrial parks in the county.


Knight said that the city is working on contracts with Sutherland's, Casey's Convenience Store and Dodge Partners for the pad site where First Assembly of God church currently resides.


She said the EDC is working with a developer out of Texas on the Rib Crib site. Rib Crib is slated to use half of a 4,000-square-foot pad. Negotiations are ongoing to find a second tenant.


The commission heard from Ford County Fire Chief Rob Boyd about a potential burn ban.


"There is no doubt that we are extremely dry," Boyd said.


Several farmers have already contacted Boyd for advice on controlled burns. A lack of a hard freeze has left a great deal of dry vegetation standing vertical. Without vegetation laying horizontal on the ground, any moisture evaporates off before it can be absorbed, creating dry fuel available to catch any spark.


Moisture alone won't accomplish that, according to Boyd. He said the area needs a solid freeze and some heavy snowfall or even a minor ice storm to knock down stalks.


Boyd said that he wants to leave burning open for the next couple of weeks in the hopes that farmers who need to burn CRP grasses can get that done.


"Two weeks may allow some of this burning to get completed," Boyd said. "The more that we can burn now then the less we have to burn in 60 days when things start greening up."


Boyd said that only about one percent of grass fires are started by controlled burns. He said the vast majority are caused by vehicle mechanical failures and discarded cigarettes.


The administrators voted unanimously to accept the fuel bid from Nusser Oil out of Jetmore. For the nine-month contract, the county purchases 80,000 gallons of No. 2 diesel, 10,000 gallons of No. 1 diesel, and 45,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline.


Nusser was the low bid for the contract. After a considerable pause Snook said, "I hate to do business out of town. That's all I got to say."


"Same," said Boys.


Ford County Road and Bridge Superintendent Chris O'Neal received permission from commissioners to request bids for a new oil distributor.


O'Neal said the county's current piece of equipment - purchased in 2014 - has seen nearly $21,000 in maintenance costs, with no support from the manufacturer Mauldin.


O'Neal estimates a new oil distributor will run the county approximately $170,000 before trade-in allowance.


Commissioners gave their consent to county attorney Kevin Salzman to purchase new case management software for approximately $77,000 from Software Unlimited Corporation.


Salzman said his offices current software lacks remote access and integration capabilities. He said that the new system would reduce costs by allowing greater ease of communication between his office and courts and defense attorneys.


The commission received an update concerning the ongoing building at the Ford County Landfill. Approximately April 1 there should be an owner walk-through conducted where commissioners and other officials can make final decisions and inspections.


To contact the writer email sedger@dodgeglobe.com