‘Green’ means go

Published 10:50 am Thursday, November 16, 2017

JACKSON – Back in March, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners voted to enact security upgrades to the courthouse. Those upgrades, which included among other things an enclosed breezeway to connect the courthouse to the adjacent building housing a smaller courtroom, were put on hold later while the county was waiting to get their audit back to confirm their financial situation.

During the Commissioner’s meeting on November 6, however, the security project was put back on the table by County Manager Kim Turner, stating the county should have enough money to move forward with the project.

Even though it was approved in March of this year, the official “green light” was given on Nov. 6 to move forward with much-needed security upgrades at the circa 1858 Northampton County Courthouse. The $140,300 project was delayed while county officials ensured that the funds were available. | File Photo

“At this time, looking at our first three months, looking at what we have not been spending, I think we are still good,” Turner said in response to Commissioner Fannie Greene’s question about monetary concerns.

Turner went on to explain what small security measures they had been able to put into place while the full project was on hold. Most of the proceedings normally held in the small courtroom, located in the same building as the commissioners’ meetings, were moved into a larger courtroom inside the courthouse.

“But that still does not help when they have three courts going on,” Turner explained of the temporary solution.

“I’m very concerned about the small courtroom and this building because it’s not secure enough,” she continued. “Anyone can just walk in with anything.”

The security upgrade would enclose the breezeway between the two buildings so that the only access to the small courtroom would be from the courthouse—after people have passed through the metal detector. The project would also include upgrading the courthouse entrances to scan security cards.

All the commissioners were in agreement that making the courthouse facilities safer should be a top priority.

At the aforementioned March board meeting, the commissioners heard reports regarding the state of courthouse security from both Clerk of Court Laquitta Green-Cooper and Sheriff Jack Smith. Both agreed that upgrades were necessary.

Chief District Court Judge Brenda Branch had also told the commissioners at a meeting in late 2016 that, in her opinion, the Northampton Courthouse was the most unsafe one out of the four in District 6.

“That’s where the criminals go,” said Commissioner Charles Tyner during Monday’s meeting before continuing on to list the people who work in the courthouse every day.

“Who is in that courthouse,” he asked before answering his own rhetorical question. “The citizens of our county. Our law enforcement, the jurors, the clerk of court, the DA, the assistant DA. Let’s give our county manager the go ahead, and let us do something to have safety.”

Greene asked Finance Officer Leslie Edwards if she was in agreement with Turner about having the necessary money set aside for the project, to which she replied in the affirmative.

“My concern all along has been about the finances and making sure we are fiscally okay before we spend money,” Greene explained. “I’m hearing from the county manager and the finance officer that they feel comfortable at this time to spend [the money.] If they’re okay with that, I’m certainly okay.”

Greene motioned to move forward with the courthouse security project, which carries a price tag of $140,300. Commissioner Geneva Faulkner seconded it. The Board passed the motion to proceed with a unanimous affirmative vote.

Turner added afterwards they would also look into planning for additional deputies to work in the courthouse when the time comes to draw up next year’s budget.