Johnson hatches plan to move commissioners out of the courthouse
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For the last 111 years, the Grady County Commission’s offices have been in the Grady County Courthouse, but by the end of the year the board is planning to move out.
After learning in June that the Southwest Georgia Council on Aging was permanently closing the Grady County Senior Citizens Center and relinquishing exclusive use of the county-owned facility, Grady County administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, has been formulating a plan to relocate the offices of the Grady County Commission to the facility at 33 17th Ave. N.W.
Johnson has discussed his plan individually with commissioners rather than as quorum and on Tuesday those plans were made public. With hardly any discussion of the matter, the board authorized Johnson to move forward with his plan.
“In my opinion, it is a smart move,” Johnson told commissioners Tuesday.
The county administrator said that moving the commission’s offices out of the courthouse would free up space for other uses.
“The bottom line is all expenses will be covered under CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding,” Johnson said.
In addition to the county’s administrative offices moving to the former senior center, the commission meetings would also be held at the facility, which was built in the late 1990s with a Community Development Block Grant awarded to the county to construct a senior citizens center.
Johnson said that by transitioning the former senior center into an administration building it would allow county workers to be more spread out and would reduce traffic at the courthouse, all of which he said would result in safer work environments for county staff during the ongoing pandemic.
Johnson says the “space will be better formatted, and user friendly for all the offices affected by the move and will provide a more efficient work space for all.”
He claims another factor considered is that the commission offices will be closer to “the county offices that we directly serve” and the commission chamber will be “larger and better suited for social distancing of all involved citizens and staff.”
According to Johnson, the former senior center is “set up in a secure way that will allow public use of the main areas and security of the office space areas, allowing for small, but very specific public use during non-regular business hours.”
The administrator said that no other offices would be “forced” to move, but with the county commission vacating the courthouse it would free up space for the Grady County Magistrate Court to move into the former commission offices and the current commission meeting room could be a courtroom shared by the magistrate with the Grady County Probate Court.
Johnson also said that the commission personnel moving out would also free up space for an expansion of the Grady County Clerk of Courts office. Existing walkup windows in the space originally occupied by the Grady County Tax Commissioner’s office would be an area where clerk of court personnel could wait on the public and accept payment of fines.
The county administrator said that the Grady County Board of Assessors had been requesting additional office space and the proposed move could accommodate that request, as well. Additionally, Johnson said other offices could be relocated as part of the overall project.
Johnson said Grady County is the exception not the norm with the commission offices being located in the courthouse. According to the administrator, almost all of the counties in southwest Georgia have commission offices outside of the courthouse. “The reason being you don’t want your political subdivision being inside the courthouse,” he said.
Grady County Commissioner LaFaye Copeland said she had asked county attorney Gabe Ridley to research the CDBG grant to insure the county was not bound by the grant any longer and that such a move would be legal.
Ridley said he had not researched the matter, but that he was willing to if the board so desired. “If the board is comfortable moving on without me researching it, that’s the board’s decision,” Ridley said.
According to Johnson, he had researched the matter himself with the Department of Community Affairs and the county’s obligation was for 20 years and according to County Clerk John White that period has expired since the Council on Aging had moved into the facility in 1998.
However, Johnson said there was time for Ridley to research it if that was the board’s wishes. Johnson said the move would not take place overnight and would most likely not be done until December.
Johnson said all he was seeking on Tuesday was the board giving a “thumbs up” to proceed with the plan.
“If everything is clear and there are no other snags, I’ll make the motion to go ahead with it,” Commissioner Ray Prince said. His motion was quickly seconded by Commissioner Phillip Drew.
“Debbie (Kines) has been hitting me up for more room since I got elected. We certainly can’t make the courthouse bigger, so I’m good with it,” Commissioner June Knight said.
Commissioner Copeland said since the approval was contingent on Ridley researching the matter she would also support it and the motion passed unanimously.