County to test market on Adams Street properties

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Warren County is lightly exploring ways to sell the old justice court and a neighboring building on Adams Street before supervisors take their desires to tear them down to court, officials said Monday.

Board of Supervisors attorney Blake Teller mentioned a directive to do so after about 40 minutes in a closed session convened citing the potential litigation exception in Mississippi Open Meetings law.

Supervisors’ decision, which wasn’t formally moved on but confirmed by their answer to Teller’s question, comes after Vicksburg officials on Wednesday backed up the city’s Board of Architectural Review’s earlier denial of the county’s request to raze 1015 and 1019 Adams Street. Both are in Vicksburg’s historic district and a bone on contention between the city and county for a decade. With the action, the county is left to pursue a bench order, starting in chancery court, to demolish them.

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County officials had reopened the session when Teller made audible the plan to former county board attorney Marcie Southerland of his plans. Seated near a desk generally staffed by the attorney and county administrator during meetings, Southerland was there to request a short executive session with the board to discuss ongoing civil litigation in Hinds County involving former circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree. Supervisors appointed Teller as board attorney Nov. 20. Southerland was hired 10 days earlier with the District Attorney’s Office, but was kept as counsel in the Palmertree case. She has about six months to wrap up work on county cases, as per state law.

Board President Bill Lauderdale had announced no action was taken during the closed session, then acknowledged Southerland’s presence in the room and agreed to close the session again for the Palmertree matter after a bid opening was finished.

“Was somebody going to make a motion out of the other executive session or not?” Teller asked.

Multiple supervisors spoke simultaneously to answer ‘no’. The board had planned to recess until 9 a.m. Thursday to handle a separate bid opening, prompting Teller and Chancery Clerk Donna Hardy to suggest it come up then.

“We’ll take care of that Thursday,” Lauderdale responded, adding the issue wasn’t considered tabled because there was no motion.

The county’s former justice court building at 1019 Adams St. was completed in the 1870s as a house and was once the law office of John Prewitt before he became a circuit judge. In 1984, the county purchased the structure for $126,000 to be home to justice court. In 2002, the three justice court judges were moved to 921 Farmer St. and the Adams street property essentially became a storage bin.

Known as the “old Verhine building,” the house at 1015 Adams St. was built in the 1890s and was home to Verhine & Verhine law firm from 1991 to 2002, according to city directories. The county paid $46,000 for the old house, officials have said.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George on Monday said the county wanted to build a new justice court building on the site in the 1990s, but the city’s historic preservation district regulations prevented that. George and Lauderdale are the two longest-serving supervisors; at least one has served on the board since 1988.

“It was solely for public service,” George said of the scrapped plan. “It was to keep county services as closely bunched as possible.”

“It would have cost a fortune to relocate (justice court), so we decided the necessity of the public good surely would prevail,” George said. “However, that was a terribly failed assumption. So, here we are.”

The fate of both buildings has been tossed back and forth among the three boards most often since 2004, the year the Verhine building was bought. In 2004 and 2005, the county sought to raze the buildings. The board put a 150-day stay on each request, but the county took no action.