Commissioners have power to relocate county seat

Published 11:38 am Friday, August 19, 2011

WINTON – By all indications, relocating a county seat of government is not buried beneath a mountain of red tape.

After being charged with a fact-finding mission by the Hertford County Commissioners earlier this week, attorney Chuck Revelle has discovered a fairly simple way for the board to move the county seat from Winton if they so choose.

Revelle, who serves as legal counsel to the Commissioners, was asked by the board to explore moving the seat of government to Ahoskie and/or relocating the site of the new county courthouse, a facility scheduled for completion in 2013.

“In my telephone conversations with the North Carolina School of Government, I’ve learned there is not a definition of the term county seat in the N.C. General Statutes and no specified procedure for moving the county seat,” Revelle said. “Historically the county seat was the seat of Superior Court for the county.

“It is my opinion, after consultation with the attorneys at the N.C. School of Government, that the county seat is therefore wherever the county courthouse is located.  Other county buildings or offices may be located in different places throughout the county,” he noted.

Revelle did note one North Carolina General Statute (GS 153A-169) which he said, “clearly specifies that the Board of Commissioners may designate or redesignate the location of any county department, office, agency or building, including the courthouse.”

“The only limitation on the commissioners’ discretion is a requirement that before redesignating the site of the courthouse, the board must publish a notice of its intent to do so at least four weeks before the redesignation.  That statute was litigated in 1998, and the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the power or right of the Board of Commissioners to designate and redesignate the site of any county building, including the courthouse,” Revelle stated.

Thusly, no special action is required by the North Carolina General Assembly….a matter that Revelle initially thought would be the case.

“This statute controls this designation or redesignation; no legislative action is necessary,” Revelle said.

Upon discovering this information, Revelle immediately contact all five Hertford County Commissioners, County Manager Loria Williams and Buddy Jones, legal counsel to the Winton Town Council.

The issue of possibly relocating the county seat and/or finding a new site for the construction of the courthouse came about following a closed session of the Commissioners at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday night. Commission Chairman Johnnie Ray Farmer told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald on Tuesday that the board was becoming frustrated with Town of Winton officials regarding several issues with the courthouse project. Farmer stated those issues involved the county seeking a variance on the town’s street setback ordinance for the new courthouse (it will be built on county-owned property in what is now a grass/gravel parking lot on Tryon Street) and how to address vehicle parking once construction begins on that parcel of land.

“We’ve made several attempts to meet the demands of the Town of Winton when it comes to providing ample parking once the courthouse construction process begins,” Farmer said in a Tuesday afternoon interview. “We’ve presented them with our ideas, not once, but twice, and they still aren’t satisfied….they want more parking (spaces).”

Farmer said the consensus of the commissioners was if their latest parking proposal is not satisfactory to town officials, “then perhaps we need to look for another location for the courthouse outside of Winton.”

He said the Monday night discussion went a step further as the commissioners talked about moving the courthouse project to Murfreesboro or Ahoskie.

“What it all boiled down to was if we kept running into roadblocks put up by the town, then we need to look at other options,” Farmer said. “The discussion then took a turn towards if we opted to move the courthouse, what about all county offices.”

A motion was made and unanimously approved to explore moving the county seat to Ahoskie and/or relocating the site of the new courthouse.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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