OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — The new county court is in need of office space, but the county has run out.
Circuit Clerk Tony Rook told the board of supervisors on Tuesday it would be best to house county court with circuit court, which is located in the courthouse annex on Main Street, in order to keep records for both courts under one roof. However, that would necessitate relocating the county administration and board of supervisors’ office space to a different facility.
Due to Oktibbeha County exceeding a population of 50,000, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves approved the creation of a county court in January. This court will be a middle court between justice and circuit courts and also oversee youth court.
Circuit Clerk Tony Rook said he sees the court fully operating in 12 months, but with the creation of a new court comes new personnel. Three candidates qualified to run for county court judge in the Nov. 8 election. Along with the elected judge, the court will need a court reporter and administrator — both hired by the judge — and individual criminal, civil and youth clerks.
Currently, no office space is available in the courthouse annex on Main Street.
After speaking with all three circuit court judges, Rook said they collectively believe circuit and county courts must reside together.
“We believe we can schedule the current circuit courtrooms to coexist with county court and youth court,” Rook said. “However, we must still create space with staff, which is one of the large challenges. The judges and I have spoken in detail about this, and we all unanimously agree that it is critical for all personnel (related to the courts) to be located under the same roof.”
As circuit court clerk, Rook must oversee all court documents, files and evidence for both circuit and county courts, keeping them locked safely in a vault. If the courts were located in two separate buildings, court files would be transferred back and forth, allowing for potential damage or misplacement of documents.
“If files leave the building and records are separated, that’s a worst-case scenario, and the reason is it increases the likelihood of losing or misplacing court files,” Rook said. “If you’re habitually moving files back and forth, it increases the likelihood of accidentally tainting or destroying evidence which absolutely cannot happen.”
Because of the need for documents being housed in one building, Rook said a circuit court judge could rule that county court must be housed in the courthouse annex.
County Administrator Delois Farmer told The Dispatch the administration is planning to move its offices, but right now there is nowhere for them to go.
The county purchased a new building with 37 offices on Lynn Lane in December. Farmer, along with Chancery Clerk Sharon Livingston, said at the Jan. 24 work session that they had planned for the Oktibbeha County Department of Human Services, Child Protective Services and Mississippi State University Extension’s county agency to move from their current location at the old Felix Long Memorial Hospital — which would be demolished soon after — into the new building.
Livingston said she has two offices in the chancery courthouse, also on Main Street, that could be used short-term for county court until a more permanent solution is identified, but two offices will not cover the six needed employees for the court, Rook told The Dispatch.
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer advised Rook and Farmer to communicate better with each other about the possibility of switching offices around.
“My suggestion would be to have better communication with (Farmer) and (Livingston) because they have come up with a plan short-term to get us moving, and I think that is a very viable plan,” Trainer told Rook.
The board issued $10 million of bonds for capital improvements in December. County Attorney Rob Roberson suggested the board potentially look into creating a new administration building at the Felix Long site after the old property is demolished.
While these bonds were intended for road improvements, Roberson said the county could use internet sales tax funds for those, since that can only be spent on roads and bridges. That would free up the bonds for constructing a new administration building.
“That is prime property for continuing the building process for the county administration, and we could use the current bond money that we have to start that process of building an admin building there with the possibility of using the internet money that we get in every quarter,” Roberson said. “We could use that money for a building without raising taxes.”
Board president Bricklee Miller, who represents District 4, said no decisions have yet been made as to where any department will be housed, and the board will need to look at all possible solutions moving forward.
“This may be something where we have to look at where county administration is, if they move somewhere else, if we keep it all under one roof where we put them,” Miller said. “We haven’t officially (voted) on moving everyone around.”