There's a splash fountain at the brand new Northampton County Courthouse, too. But unlike a private business, which sometimes allows inner city kids to enjoy themselves on muggy summer days, county government actually sends deputy sheriffs to intimidate children whose sole offense is trying to stay cool.
"I knew this would happen!," was the clarion cry of one loud female title searcher late yesterday afternoon. "Look at that! They even brought towels!" Sure enough, about seven or eight young kids, mostly of color, were running through the fountain. It's the first time that gaudy monstrosity has ever been put to good use.
At a courthouse, you see lots of sad things. I've seen mothers wail after losing custody of their children - one of the saddest sights in the world. I've even watched couples argue or duke it out after a custody or some other domestic dispute - one of the most ridiculous sights in the world.
But yesterday, I saw something new - kids having fun. The people's building was actually providing a benefit to the people.
"That's trespassing!," bellowed one title searcher, feigning outrage. Actually, it's a public property. Signs around the perimeter warn, "NO SKATEBOARDING, BICYCLE RIDING, ROLLER BLADING, ROLLER SKATING, SCOOTER RIDING." Nothing warns against cooling off in a splash fountain. Those geysers invite the very behavior that occurred.
Signs or no signs, nobody was going to be allowed to have one second of fun at the courthouse. No, siree! Who do those little brats think they are?
Less than five minutes after the splashing started, two armed deputy sheriffs were on the scene, stopping these hideous future criminals. Good thing these guys pack automatics, eh? One of them spoke into his radio, then shooed the kids away. The kids quickly dispersed, returning back to life on the streets. Gangbangers are probably very grateful and should send candy to the deputies. After all, the Crips can't recruit kids who waste time splashing in a courthouse fountain.
I called the sheriff's office to find out why they had ejected these kids. One deputy, who I won't name, tells me "court administrators" had complained. Perhaps they were worried that, with so many kids off the streets, Easton's drug economy might collapse. A supervisor, who I also won't name, asks me, "What if those kids get hurt?"
Let's see, how many kids do you know who are grievously injured and die after running through a splash fountain? Do you think that evil PPL hasn't considered and discounted that as a possibility? If we're so concerned about being sued, then why the hell was the fountain ever installed in the first place? The supervisor, who I still won't name, conceded he ran through many a splash fountain in his day and never once cracked his head.
I'm not so sure.
Here's another question - since when do "court administrators" decide whether or not kids may frolic in a splash fountain? Don't they have enough to do, what with firing chief probation officers and things like that?
The person who does administer the maintenance and operation of county buildings is Director of Public Works Steve DeSalva. He told me there actually is no policy prohibiting neighborhood kids from using the splash fountain. The water is not poisonous. He made no complaint.
When I was asked, "What if one of those kids get hurt?," the question I was really being asked is "What if one of those little monsters sue us?" The answer is simple, if that's really the concern instead of a general animosity against those people. Require kids who want to splash in the fountain to be accompanied by an adult guardian. Have that guardian sign a waiver with deputies at the building entrance. Perhaps when these kids get older, they'll look at the courthouse with fond memories instead of shooting out its windows.
Let's face it. The county seat is located in an urban neighborhood, and an impoverished one at that. It really should make more of an effort to get along with the residents.
I stopped by the court administrator's office on my way out of the building yesterday, but everyone had bolted, so I don't know who really complained. The deputy who spoke to me may be mistaken. Director of Administration John Conklin informs me county officials will determine a policy after consulting with the court.