The status of a lease on new office space for District Attorney Scott Colom is unclear, as Lowndes County Supervisors tabled discussion Friday on what to do about a missing wall at the building.
Colom’s office is moving from the Courthouse Annex, an aging building on the western grounds of the Lowndes County Courthouse, to the Leigh building, located across the street from the courthouse at 522 Second Ave. N. The Frank Leigh estate owns the property.
A portion of the building’s southeast wall is missing after the demolition of the adjacent Waters building in August.
Supervisors set an October move date for Colom and his staff when they approved leasing the building in July. However, Board Attorney Tim Hudson said Friday the missing wall may complicate matters.
“There’s some damage to a wall in the building, and I wouldn’t start (the lease) until it’s completely fixed,” Hudson said.
The building’s southeast corner is damaged. Part of the wall is missing, with only studs and plastic covering in place. Hudson said it wouldn’t be hard for a determined person to “break in with a pocketknife.”
Questions arose at Friday’s meeting over what to do with the lease until the wall is fixed. Board President Harry Sanders pointed out, while Colom’s staff still works out of the Courthouse Annex, some desks and other pieces of furniture have already been moved to the Leigh building.
Sanders expressed concern that moving the DA’s office into the building would take away the county’s leverage for having the wall fixed.
“They might sit there and say ‘We ain’t gonna fix it. You’re already moved in,'” Sanders said. “What do you do?”
District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham suggested withholding payment until the wall is fixed.
“What if we said that we could start (the lease) since he’s started moving in, but we could not start paying until the wall is complete?” Brigham said. “If they want their money they’ll get it fixed.”
The lease for the building is $2,500, with Lowndes County fronting the cost and the three other counties in the 16th Circuit Court District reimbursing Lowndes for a portion — including Oktibbeha (33.3 percent), Clay (15 percent) and Noxubee (9 percent). Lowndes County’s share of the lease is $1,067.50, or 42.7 percent.
Sanders hesitated on completely withdrawing payments. Instead, he suggested making reduced payments until the wall is repaired. For example, he said the county could pay $1,000 per month until the wall is fixed, then make the regular monthly payments.
“We’re going to have to cover ourselves between right now and when we’ve moved everything over there, unless you want to go over there and move everything back,” he said. “We’re squatters right now. You’re going to have to pay some rent in order to hold a lease.”
Hudson noted that the move-in for the DA’s office is nowhere close to complete, and Colom has indicated that he didn’t intend to use the building until the wall is complete.
Still, he said making payments on the lease might not expedite repairs.
“It was a vacant building for a long time,” Hudson said. “I don’t know that paying $1,000 a month on a building that you haven’t paid anything on for years would speed somebody up.”
Supervisors will take up the matter again when they meet at 9 a.m. Monday.
The Dispatch could not obtain a comment from Leigh Enterprises, which manages the estate, by press time.
Open meetings complaint
Also on Friday, supervisors agreed to the facts of an open meetings complaint Tupelo-based WTVA television filed against the county with the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
In the complaint, WTVA News Director Steve Rogers alleges supervisors divided into three groups of two — less than a quorum each but forming a quorum when considered together — to discuss whether to hire a consultant to review the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority’s structure and operations. The board hired RF Consulting at a regular meeting in June for $4,000.
According to the complaint, Sanders and District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham interviewed the consultant, then divided the duties of individually discussing the matter with the other supervisors before the hiring came to a public vote. The complaint also cites a letter Sanders wrote to Columbus Mayor Robert Smith before the June 17 meeting informing him the supervisors’ agenda would include discussion about whether to hire a parks consultant.
Hudson told supervisors on Friday that he is working on a response to the complaint. He said he didn’t see any significant disputes with the facts, other than a meeting Sanders and Brigham had with a RF Consulting representative the complaint said happened in Meridian that actually occurred in Louisville.
However, he said the county’s agreeing to the facts of the case does not mean it’s not contesting the complaint.
Sanders has denied wrongdoing in the case, saying he and Brigham met with a representative of RF Consulting in Louisville to gather information, then contacted supervisors to “see if they had a problem putting the matter on the agenda.”
In other business, supervisors:
■ approved a beaver control contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for up to $80,000; and
■ allowed Fire Coordinator Sammy Fondren to request a burn ban from the Mississippi Forestry Commission effective until Oct. 27.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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