‘Its time has come’

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 5, 2007

WINTON – While commissioners, judges and even deputy sheriffs see the condition of the Hertford County Courthouse on a regular basis, there are those who see it more.

Clerk of Superior Court Shirley Johnson and Register of Deeds Kathleen Wright have both been in their current roles for more than 16 years. During that time the two women and their respective staffs have dealt first-hand with the deterioration of the current facility.

The single problem identified by both Wright and Johnson as the number one issue is the heating and cooling of the building. Though their offices are side-by-side, one of them has an outside wall and the other does not, making the temperature in the two rooms vastly different.

“Most of the problems we’ve experienced have been with the heating and air conditioning,” Wright said. “With our office next to the Clerk’s office and we share a thermostat.

“With this being an office with an outside wall, in the winter it is very cold and the inside of the building may not be so cold,” she continued. “That makes it difficult for us trying to keep the temperature adjusted.”

Johnson echoed those thoughts.

“The heating and cooling is the worst problem,” she said. “We share a thermostat so it’s not easy for us to make either office comfortable.”

Also, Johnson indicated she knew there was trouble keeping the courtrooms heated and cooled.

“The judges have problems in the courtroom because it is too hot with the air conditioning off and too loud with it on,” she said.

While Wright said her office had been relatively devoid of other issues, Johnson’s office has encountered a drastic problem – leakage.

“There were times when we’ve come into the office and there would be two inches of water in the back vault,” she said. “Thankfully, that problem has been patched and doesn’t exist anymore, but there is still mildew on a lot of the walls.

“It’s awful at times,” she continued. “We’ve had rain fall on typewriters and destroy them so they had to be replaced.”

While she maintains the building is in vast need of replacing if that is possible, one improvement Johnson has seen has come in the form of the current makeup of the county commission.

“I thank God for the commissioners we have because they do listen,” Johnson said. “I’ve been complaining about this building for 10 years and everyone before has nodded their heads. I believe they are working towards it.”

Johnson said she had received a visit from Commission Vice Chairman Howard J. Hunter III who had looked at the problems in the clerk’s office and was concerned about the plight of the employees.

Both Wright and Johnson said they have had complaints from citizens about the building, but they haven’t been in vast numbers.

“The lighting is the biggest complaint we receive,” Johnson said. “The wiring in this building is so old that every other light in the back works. That causes a lot of problems for people being able to see.”

Wright said the main concern voiced to her had been alleviated by the county commissioners.

“When the side door was first closed because of security, there were a lot of complaints about walking through mud to get to the front door,” she said. “Since concrete has been laid there, I’ve received several compliments about the work.”

While both agree the building has major problems, one issue Johnson faces that is not a problem for Wright is that of space.

“I have no complaints about space,” Wright said. “I’m very thankful that we have the vault space we do. I am the envy of many for the space in my office.”

While Wright has been able to make the most of a lot of space, Johnson has completely run out of room in the Clerk’s office.

“We have no room,” she said. “We are continuously sending files to Raleigh to archive and then we have to requisition them back if someone needs them because we don’t have room to store it.”

Both women said they would favor replacement of the current facility if it were feasible.

“I like the sheriff’s idea of butting the buildings up to each other,” Wright said. “I think it would be very nice for people to be able to move from one office to the other.”

Johnson said she believed a new courthouse facility was “important.”

“I’ll give this place credit,” she said. “It has stood the test of time, but it’s time has come.”