Hamilton County commissioners spent much of their Wednesday morning meeting bickering over $8,000 in unbudgeted funds.
The funds, which had been recommend in a resolution geared at enhancing a Hamilton County courtroom with additional safety measures, came into question after some commissioners learned that their colleagues, along with county Mayor Jim Coppinger, had examined the courtroom and held discussions on the matter without their knowledge.
The resolution would have granted the county Maintenance Department an extra $8,000 to remodel portions of Courtroom No. 6, which has previously been used as a jury room.
Before recommending to approve the measure, Commissioner Warren Mackey said the resolution had come at the request of county judges, who suggested changes to items such as the height of the bench, which would help ensure safety during civil court cases.
But before the group could vote, Commissioner Jim Fields, an attorney, swooped in to inform the commission he had personally surveyed the courtroom, along with Commissioner Joe Graham and Coppinger, last week. Fields suggested tabling the motion in order to allow commissioners to review the room themselves and discuss alternatives to the measure with additional judges.
Commissioner Greg Beck, a court officer, was not amused.
"Who pulled together a committee involving the mayor to go and look at that?" Beck asked. "Mr. Chairman, I recommend that we proceed with this resolution as it stands."
Graham said if the funds were to be directed at ensuring the safety of judges, consideration ought to be given to the entry and exit paths for judges into and out of the courtroom. Graham said the room was the only one in the county courthouse through which a judge had to pass through the general public in order to reach the bench and proceed with holding court.
"I think this is worth tabling to have some of the other commissioners go over there," Graham said. "I have talked to the judges, and they said they were fine with it either way."
Beck remained unconvinced.
"The decision has already been made with the mayor, with commissioners, and everybody going around and carrying the mayor all over the place and doing that kind of business," he said. "Why do we need a committee to intervene at this time? Just go on with what you all have decided to do."
Coppinger said that he had viewed the courtroom simply because he had been asked to examine it personally. The mayor added that his core concern with the issue was only in seeing that funds were managed properly.
"The county mayor's interest is only in the financial piece of this, and I'm fully aware that the judges and commission will work through whatever the issue is with courtrooms and locations," Coppinger said.
Mackey sympathized with Beck, saying that although he would probably take no issue with an alternative approach to enhancing the courtroom, he would be appreciative if commissioners were kept in the loop with one another—particularly regarding changes to items that had been passed in agenda sessions.
"If people are going to take the mayor over, there should have been a courtesy extended to simply let others know what was taking place, and we come into this meeting and actions have been taken and conversations have been held," Mackey said. "And again, I'm willing to look at these alternatives, but it would have been nice to have been brought into that loop if people were planning something else."
The group voted 5-3 to table the resolution until further review. Along with Beck and Mackey, Commissioner Marty Haynes cast a no vote.
Following the roll call, Commission Chairman Larry Henry requested that Beck still go over and examine the courtroom with a committee.
"It seems like it's already been worked out," Beck replied. "Why would I waste my time to go over there?"
"I don't think it would be a waste of time," Henry said.
In other business, commissioners voted to accept the bid of Village Volkswagen to price diesel sedan vehicles for the county fleet—presumably the locally manufactured Passat.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.