On Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at 6:30 pm, a meeting concerning the future of the courthouse was held to in the the Clay County Courthouse with concerned citizens packing the benches of the Hugo Black courtroom.
This meeting was called by Courthouse officials to address the referendum that will be on the Clay County ballot in the upcoming November election. This Act, SB81, was first introduced into the House by State Senator Gerald Dial which passed through Legislation to be placed on the Clay County Ballot for citizens to vote on in the November election.
By Senator Dial
ENROLLED, An Act,
To propose a local constitutional amendment for Clay County relating to the location of the state courts; to prohibit the removal of the state courts from the present location at the historical Clay County Courthouse.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA:
Section 1. The following amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, is proposed and shall become valid as a part of the Constitution when all requirements of this act are fulfilled:
(a) The Legislature hereby finds and declares:
(1) The Clay County Courthouse is a neoclassical revival structure that was designed by C.W. Carlton and completed and dedicated in 1906. The building is surmounted by an impressive two-story high rotunda with a domed roof and cupola that is topped with a sculpture holding the scales of justice.
(2) The courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 21, 1976, and was restored in 2006 with donations and grants from federal, state, and local governments.
(3) The courthouse houses the Justice Hugo L. Black Courtroom, designated by the Clay County Commission on April 12, 1993.(b) Upon the ratification of this amendment, the state courts located in Clay County may not be moved from the present location at the historical Clay County Courthouse, provided the structure is standing and habitable.
Section 2. An election upon the proposed amendment shall be held in accordance with Sections 284 and 284.01 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Sections 284 and 284.01 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, and the election laws of this state.
Section 3. The appropriate election official shall assign a ballot number for the proposed constitutional amendment on the election ballot and shall set forth the following description of the substance or subject matter of the proposed constitutional amendment:
“Relating to Clay County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, prohibiting the removal of the state courts from the historical Clay County Courthouse.
“Proposed by Act _________”This description shall be followed by the following language:
“Yes ( ) No ( ).”
Welcoming everyone present in the courtroom was Judge John Rochester, who was very quick to point out that this was not to be a political meeting, nor would it be used as a method to bash the County Commission. Rochester stated this was merely an opportunity to educate the public on the proposed amendment that if passed, would mean that all state courts would be always be held inside the this historic Courthouse, as long as the building remained habitable.
Rochester’s speech highlighted some brief history of the on the Courthouse, which was built on 1906 and withstood many eras in time, including the Great Depression, World War I, all the way through Afghanistan. “With every conflict going on along the way, this Courthouse has remained safe. The intent when the courthouse was built over 100 years ago was that the state court would always be held in this courtroom and I think that should always be honored. This is the people’s Courthouse. You built it, you pay for it, and you maintain it. Someone else may be designated to do those tasks, but its still yours.”
Rochester went on to say that they were very proud of the history behind the courthouse, which included the following: ” One of the largest crowds we’ve ever had was the meeting of the African-Methodist Episcopal Church Bishops and had their meeting here, with Bishops from three different states. At the times, this was unheard of, but we’re proud of it. When women first were able to vote, they came to this courthouse to do it. When African-Americans and women were first able to serve on juries, they did it here. That’s some of the history of this place and we have to protect and support it. If we’re allowed to maintain state offices here by the voting people on Nov. 6th, then the courthouse will remain open and we will have many, many opportunities for long-term funding thru grants to protect this place. I think its important to preserve it for our future generations.”
Other who spoke on behalf of the amendment were District Judge Jim Malone Circuit Judge David Law, Talladega Probate Judge Billy Atkinson, Revenue Commissioner Ronald Robertson and Clay County Commissioner Ray Milstead, District 3 .
Yesterday, at Monday’s County Commission meeting, Commissionershad a firm response to the unauthorized meeting, to which four of the five commissioners were not even aware of until the last minute on that Tuesday.
Commissioner Bennie Morrison opened the discussion with this statement:
In regards to so much misinformation coming out from the meeting on the courthouse on Tuesday night. First off, I’d like to make it clear that this is my response and not a statement made by the Commission as a whole. Those of you who instigated this meeting should be ashamed of yourselves. Not once have one of you attended a commission meeting to discuss the financial issues and responsibilities going on with the courthouse. There’s a lot of misinformation going around regarding the amendment to “save the courthouse” that is going to be on the November ballot. I have a copy of the Amendment right here and you can feel free to look at it, but that’s not the case. There’s not anything on here about saving the courthouse. It’s an Amendment to prevent the state court from being removed from the courthouse. I think it is absolutely saddening that they would have a meeting that was centered around something that we are physically and financially responsible for with this Board of Commissioners and four of the Commissioners be excluded from that meeting.
This county does not belong to a small “click” of people. It belongs to every taxpayer. Everybody’s got the same voice and some people need to learn to treat it like that. If anybody’s got any questions about what’s going on and what we do out here financially, we meet the second Monday of every month. Anybody can come to see how we do things, how we spend the county’s money, how we preserve as much of it as we can and the struggles we go through and the people we fight on a daily basis. This is not about politics, this is just a small, rural county trying to get by on a daily basis with the crumbs that fall down on a state level. It’s despicable to me that someone would form a group and just tell virtual lies about what’s going on and spin it into something that it’s not. To my knowledge, it has never been spoken in this chamber that anyone wanted to tear down the courthouse. But if anyone knows anything about that, please inform me because I’m unaware. We’re not trying to do anything secretive here. We all got elected and we are just trying to do our job as best we can.
Here is more from Morrison’s formal statement not discussed at the meeting: Your group may meet secretly at night, but we meet publicly each month to discuss these and other issues. And for those of you who perpetrated the blatant lie that any commissioner had ever mentioned tearing down the courthouse, you are the problem. This is not politics. This is a small rural county that is struggling to keep its head above water. When any group lies to achieve their goal, it really speaks volumes to the character of those involved. Answer me this. Why would a group of individuals violate the law in order to push their agenda. Because that is what has just happened. Their was a resolution passed to ban after hours use of the courthouse. They violated that. Not to mention violating the laws pertaining to political meetings on county property. So to put this in perspective, this group has decided they are above the laws in our county. Leaders are defined biblically as those who listen. This little group that is pushing this agenda is not a group of leaders. Leaders don’t meet in secret. We all answer to someone higher. Seems to me that some of these folks around here have forgotten that they answer to the law. If they focused more on doing the jobs they are elected to do instead of trying to exert power, we would all be better off. And for the record. Stop lying to the public and telling them there is a amendment on the ballot to save the courthouse. There is no such thing. The proposed amendment clearly states that it is to prevent to movement of the STATE court from the courthouse as long as it is.
Chairman Ricky Burney agreed with Morrison and followed with this statement: ” I first learned about the meeting at the last second. I want to know who set this meeting up after the 4:30 mark after the courthouse was closed. I think the commission should have been asked first. There is where we are now. If any organization can have a meeting after the courthouse is closed, then I need to take a key and unlock the door for everybody else. I do not agree that just one group can have a meeting whenever they want and others cannot. I don’t care who they are, where they come from, what color they are. In my personal opinion, these people responsible should have been arrested because it’s a violation of the law. I don’t care if you’re a judge, a lawyer, or a county commissioner. If you do it, it’s wrong. For the commission to sit back and allow this happen, what are we going to do the next time? We need to stand up and follow this law since we’re the ones who set this. I’m fine with opening the courthouse up after 4:30 too, but if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it for everybody. Because I don’t like to be shut out when somebody else was given the opportunity to go in. We can’t back off because of who the person is, just got to do what you got to do. Another situation that really concerns me is the Hugo Black Courtroom. Now, I don’t know who named it that, and I’ve been trying to go through the minutes to find out, and people can call it what they want to, but we need to make sure that everyone knows that this is the Clay County Courthouse. It may not matter to nobody else, but it matters to me and some of the people I represent. Now, I want it recorded in the minutes that this is the Clay County Courthouse and not the Hugo Black Courthouse.
Commissioner Donald Harris said he was on the Courthouse Security Committee and he wasn’t even informed about about the meeting.
County Attorney Greg Varner’s response: It is my opinion that the County Commission has control over the Courthouse. I think that the Commission has the authority to do so and I stand by that position. Several months ago, in the minutes, it is recorded that after some discussion, Commissioner Morrison made a motion for a policy prohibiting the use of the Courthouse after hours for non-court activities. This was seconded by Commissioner Greg Denney. The motion was passed unanimously. That notice of the resolution was then placed on the courthouse doors on April 9,2018. However, Judges are allowed to have meetings pertaining to their offices.
My suggestion going forward to move this in a positive way. I’ve always felt that the commission was put in a very difficult position. It’s very easy for us to say “save the courthouse” but you were all put in the financially figuring out how to do that. I think it’s time that all the stakeholders from the courthouse to the commissioners to every person involved that we come together for the purpose to find a long-term solution to do this.
Editor’s note: People, please educate yourself on this amendment so that you know what you’re voting on.