City rebukes county for lack of input on RFP

Published 7:13 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Franklin’s City Council members were displeased to learn on Monday that while they had been meeting in City Hall that evening, Southampton County’s Board of Supervisors had already voted 7-0 the same night — without first consulting Franklin — to approve and send out a final draft of its request for proposals for a new architect for the Southampton County Courthouse project.

In response, the Council passed a unanimous resolution of its own, following a motion by Councilman Benny Burgess, informing the Board of Supervisors of the Council’s “strong disappointment” in not being consulted on the RFP. According to Burgess, the resolution will also inform the Board of Supervisors of the city’s intent to obtain legal counsel to re-examine what, if any, obligation Franklin has to contribute funding to the courthouse project, particularly if the county continues to make decisions on the project without consulting Franklin.

“This took all of us by surprise,” City Manager Amanda Jarratt said of the Board of Supervisors’ RFP vote. “I think all of us were taken a bit aback to see this on their agenda for action tonight.”

The Board of Supervisors had authorized Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson to prepare a first draft of the RFP on Aug. 6. In the draft RFP that was included in the Monday, Aug. 26 Board of Supervisors meeting agenda, the project was described as the “expansion, repair and renovation of the Southampton County Courthouse.”

While this wording would seem to indicate that the Board of Supervisors is no longer looking at building a new courthouse on contiguous (adjacent) land, Franklin Councilman Linwood Johnson still took issue with the word “expansion.”

“That should read renovation only,” he said. “If you add an expansion, that means … they could tear down the 1960’s [wing] and that would add to the cost of the project.”

Johnson then said he would prefer that the courthouse’s 1960s wing not be demolished, and that its two courtrooms, which are currently on the first and second floor of the original 1800s wing of the courthouse, stay where they are. The councilman added that he and other Council members had left the Aug. 6 Board of Supervisors meeting with the impression that the county and city would work together to develop the new RFP.

“Even if they have voted to move forward, we need to send a message to them … we want to work in the beginning, and not mid-way through the process,” Johnson said. “Taxation without representation is no good, and we don’t need to go down that road again.”

The “taxation” to which he refers is Franklin’s obligation to fund roughly 32 percent of the Southampton County Courthouse’s upkeep. This was codified in the city’s charter when it incorporated in 1961, since the city and county share Southampton’s circuit court, commonwealth attorney’s office and circuit court clerk’s office.

Mayor Frank Rabil said he too would like to see a clarification on what is meant by “expansion.”

Councilman Greg McLemore took Johnson’s point a step further, and suggested that if Southampton County continued to make decisions on the courthouse project without consulting Franklin, the city should be “off the hook” for paying its percentage of the project’s cost.

As to whether the city could get out of its alleged funding obligation, Burgess said, “I don’t think that’s true,” but added that that was why he had recommended that the city obtain legal advice from an attorney. Burgess added that as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not yet seen a copy of the resolution that would be sent to the Board of Supervisors.