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2011-03-17

JPs, round pegs feel ‘square’ building unfitting

By Judith Pannebaker BCC

From discussions that occurred during the Thursday, March 10, meeting of Bandera County Commissioners Court, it would appear justices of the peace cannot go about their duties with offices in a square building.
Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Lynn Holt and Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Herschel Moore attended last week’s meeting after learning their offices were tentatively slated for relocation to a newly purchased county building at the intersection of 13th and Hackberry streets.
As a result, commissioners were inundated with a litany of reasons why the $149,172 Plaza Building would simply not do as the judges’ new digs. When facing the building, the JPs would be assigned to the right side of the office duplex.
“This is nowhere adequate for justices of the peace offices,” Holt said. “The building is square and that’s not the configuration we need.”
“Is there a textbook [template] on how a JP office should be built?” asked Precinct 1 Commissioner Bruce Eliker.
Apparently there is with Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Bobbie Jo Basinger’s rectangular office building in Lakehills being the ideal, according to Holt.
Listing other problems at the Plaza Building, insufficient space tops the list. “You can’t expect us to go from 2,500 square feet and fit into 1,250 square feet. We have four employees and a judge there every day, as well as 16 filing cabinets filled with records - and we need more. We also need a courtroom.”
To County Judge Richard Evans’ suggestion that the JPs utilize the county courtroom more frequently, Holt said the larger courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse is consistently unavailable. “A bunch of times we have conflict with this court.”
Evans noted that the county courtroom is normally only tied up five days a month. “That’s why we constructed a courtroom at the justice center for district court so we could dedicate this court to county court and JP courts,” Evans said. In April, it was determined the county courtroom would be available 14 days.
“Both Herschel and I hold court three to four times a week,” Holt said. He added that justices of the peace must preside over six different courts, including civil, criminal, small claims, eviction hearings and administrative hearings - each with its own set of rules. “Between Herschel and me, we try 3,000 cases a year. Our little courtroom is always available. We’re holding court over there five days a week right now,” Holt said, adding parenthetically that the current JP courtroom lacks a proper bench and strategic exit should trouble begin.
Suggesting that Holt and Moore tour the county’s newest piece of real estate, County Auditor Christina Moeller added, “If you go to the building, your opinion might change.”
“I’ve been in that building many times, helping Patricia [Moore] get water out of it when it rains,” Holt rejoined. “We need to move to an adequate building and not jump from the frying pan into the fire.”
He suggested that commissioners construct a new building for the JPs instead of “moving them into an inadequate space and exchanging one set of problems for another.” Holt continued, “You need to build a building specifically for the JPs and we’ll be in there for 20 years just like Judge Basinger.”
Not unsurprisingly, a silence from commissioners underscored the impracticality of Holt’s proposal. “We have no money to construct another building right now,” Evans said.
“Rather than say it won’t work, I would like to see a proposal from the JPs that would make it work,” Eliker said.
“This is a chance to upgrade and we’ll address any storage problems later,” Evans said. Currently, Holt and Moore’s offices are located in the historic courthouse on 12th Street, which has long been plagued with sewer gas and an infestation of bats.
“I really think you need to take a closer look at [the new building],” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese.
“It looks like it’s a lot better than what you’ve got and the space is more usable,” Evans cajoled.
After examining the floorplan, Moore came up with an off-the-cuff solution that would entail removal of several interior non-load-bearing walls and reconfigure the space. However, he seemed to feel the space could indeed be made workable.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris made a motion to relocate the offices of Precinct 1 and 4 Justices of the Peace and Moeller to 1212 Hackberry Street and to declare a tin storage shed behind the office building as salvage. The court approved Harris’ motion, as well as requesting bids for its dismantling.
After court was adjourned, Evans asked Moeller if she had a problem moving to the left side of Plaza Building. “I’m just glad to have a job,” she replied. “I’ll work in the tin shed if you want me to.”