Friday, June 7, 2013
Dorchester County Council bowed to the wishes of Chief Justice Jean Toal by a squeaker of a vote this morning.
Council voted to use the $12,000 it previously appropriated for courthouse renovations to follow the plan of Clerk Cheryl Graham rather than its own plan.
It did so knowing the House voted earlier this week to remove $30,000 from the county's local government fund to give directly to the clerk if council wouldn't act, an action that Councilman David Chinnis equated to extortion.
The vote was three in favor – Council Chairman Bill Hearn and Councilmen George Bailey and Willie Davis – none in opposition, and two abstaining – Chinnis and Councilwoman Carroll Duncan.
Councilmen Larry Hargett and Jay Byars couldn't attend the special called meeting.
Council has been working for months on creating space within the courthouse for new At-Large Circuit Court Judge Maite Murphy, but a conflict arose as to who has the power to make renovations.
Council had an attorney general's opinion on its side saying only council can make alterations to the building, while the clerk had the chief justice on her side saying the clerk has authority to designate space.
“Never did we set out to designate space. We set out to provide space,” Duncan said.
The county's plan and the clerk's plan differed over a corner conference room, estimated at about 350 square feet, which the county located within the Probate Court and the clerk located within the At-Large Circuit Court offices.
The Probate Court is a year-round office that handles probate, guardianships and conservatorships, mental illness commitments and marriage licenses.
The at-large circuit court judge will travel around the state hearing cases.
The county sent a letter to Graham on May 22 asking for a court schedule so it could begin work June 3 while making the least possible disruption to court and the regular workings of the offices involved, but it never received a response, according to staff.