Public advises, chides leaders about courthouse

Published 7:59 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2019


The public comments that preceded the joint meeting about the courthouse issue ranged from helpful to accusatory. At the start was one of the candidates for the Franklin district seat, Earva Lee “Sumblin” Jones. She said that Western Tidewater needs to “grow the people first.” That is, the region’s leaders should do more to give people reasons for moving here whether for business or raise families. These include education, health, the economy and safety. This, she added, should take priority over any plans to expand or renovate the courthouses in both Southampton and Franklin.

Her research in past census numbers, said Jones, shows that at 2000 there were 17,482 people in the county, and by 2010, that number increased only by 1,088.

“Table the issue until the 2020 census,” she concluded.

Tommy Potter of Sunbeam Road, a candidate for the sheriff’s seat, said his major concern is how would the cost for work on the courthouse affect such matters as Southampton County’s land use program and education. In addition to a potential multi-million project, there would still be the costs associated with operating the site, such as additional deputies and maintenance, etc. He recommended that collections for security fees be increased by clerks of courts, stating that $20,000-plus could be realized annually.

“I agree it [the Southampton courthouse] needs serious work. Something needs to be done.,” Potter said, adding that the work should be done for less than $24M to $26M so as not to cripple the area. “Put on the brakes.”

Christopher Cornwell Sr., who seeks Ronald West’s seat for the Berlin/Ivor District, pointed to the courthouse renovation in Petersburg, which he said reportedly cost only about $1M. Likewise, the work on the Southampton County site needs to be done fiscally responsible.

Dan Crumpler, an attorney, said the public has been “misled from the beginning,” pointing the finger at county administrator Mike Johnson. Citing a 2012 rule change about compelling localities to upgrade courthouses, Crumpler said Johnson told him he wasn’t aware of such a change. “Again, he misled us,” said the attorney.

He urged that any relationship with Moseley Architects be terminated, and that the Southampton site only be renovated.

Amanda Crumpler followed behind and lauded Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt for publicly stating that the city could not afford to participate in any cost-sharing of the county courthouse at this time.

“This is the first time leadership has spoke for the people,” said Crumpler. Pointing to the council and supervisors board, “I challenge you to start representing your constituents.”

As with others who spokes before her, Crumpler’s remarks were applauded.

Joe Vick of the Capron District noted that the courthouse issue has been around 2008.

“We’ve neglected it [the site] for far too long,” said Vick. He also questioned the need for a third courtroom.

Glenn Updike of Newsoms asked what would be done with the old courthouse should a new one have to be built.

“Open your minds and listen to the citizens that we don’t want a new courthouse,” said Updike. Rebuild. Remodel at the cheapest price.”

Linda Simmons of Southampton Parkway said she’s also felt misled by the whole process, adding that as a Realtor, she knows that “to mislead a client is illegal.”

Speaking to the Franklin council, she said the city is “slowly but surely turning around.” Simmons also praised Jarratt as “a ray of hope.”

She added that a new courthouse is not needed, but just to restore what exists.

Last to speak was William Gillette of Capron, who’s running against incumbent Bruce Phillips for the Capron District seat. He advised the board and council act with ‘“due diligence” about the renovation.

“Stay the course,” said Gillette.