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City to request meeting with judges

FRANKLIN

Franklin’s City Council, by consensus, directed City Manager Amanda Jarratt on Monday to arrange a meeting between the members of Council and each of the chief judges appointed to Franklin’s combined lower courts so that the Council can hear first-hand what, if any, structural or security-related concerns each judge has regarding the city’s courts building.

This meeting, she added, would ideally be done in open session.

“The process, in my professional opinion, has been clouded by various accounts of what was and wasn’t done for the city of Franklin’s courthouse,” Jarratt said. “I can find no study that was done [of the city courts building].

“Because of inaction by the previous [city] administration, my recommendation is anything we do is done in the open on the table for all to read and all to see. I am highly uncomfortable with doing anything on the back of a napkin or the back of an envelope.”

Jarratt had initially been planning to meet one-on-one with Judge Alfred W. Bates III, who is the chief judge for the city’s General District Court, and Judge James E. Wiser, who is the chief judge for the city’s Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court. Mayor Frank Rabil initially agreed with Jarratt’s recommendation of a one-on-one meeting with the judges being held prior to the city issuing any formal request for proposals for architectural services.

“We may be opening a Pandora’s box, then again, we may get a clean bill of health,” the mayor said.

However, Councilman Greg McLemore, during the city manager’s report, suggested that this meeting should include the entire Council and not just Jarratt, on the grounds that the Council, and not the city manager, has the final say in how taxpayer money is spent.

Councilman Linwood Johnson then added, “It’s a newer building. All it would take is some adjustments, if that’s what we need to do, but basically, we’re uncertain as to what we need to do.”

Rabil then pointed out that regardless of whether the city moves its courts into a new Southampton County Courthouse or keeps them at their current location in Franklin on Pretlow Street, the City Council is “still on the hook” for whatever Southampton County does with its courthouse, since the city shares its Circuit Court and some constitutional officers with Southampton, which are housed in that facility. He also suggested that this meeting with the city’s lower court judges be held in the city’s courts building so the Council members could see the condition of the building and any security issues for themselves.

“We’re also on the hook for doing whatever we need to do with our court and maintaining it,” the mayor said. “Until we know what needs to be done and what our cost will be, we can’t make any decisions.”

Rabil also acknowledged that he, as one of the city’s two representatives on Southampton County’s Courthouse Committee, had voted along with every other member of that committee to first look into relocating the city’s courts to Southampton County. Councilman Benny Burgess then asked at what point the city would be beyond the “point of no return” should Southampton County redraw its plans for a new courthouse without including Franklin, and should the Council later decide that moving the city’s courts to Courtland is, in fact, the least costly solution to whatever concerns arise with its Pretlow Street facility.

No date or time has been scheduled yet for the Council’s requested meeting with the judges, nor for a City Council joint meeting with Southampton County’s Board of Supervisors.