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More courthouse space sought for county attorney

December 29, 2010
BERLIN — The county commissioners voted, 2 to 1, at Wednesday's meeting to ask the state Administrative Council of Judges to rent approximately 2,000 square feet to house the county attorney in "suitable" space in the Coös County Courthouse in Lancaster.

Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin cast the dissenting vote.

Their Dec. 22 vote took place following an executive session in which their attorney Phil Waystack updated them and county administrator Sue Collins, by telephone, on conversations he had had with county attorney Robert "Bob" Mekeel on a new "radically different" solution to finding "suitable space" aimed at keeping him in the courthouse. The county attorney told Mr. Waystack that he would be agreeable to staying in the courthouse if he and his four-person staff could occupy both the current sheriff's office and the adjacent Grand Jury, which would double the approximately 1,000 square feet into which they are now shoe-horned.

Earlier the county attorney had turned down a commissioner-sponsored proposal that would have had him move into 1,500 square feet, freed-up under a three-way office-space swap that would also involve the sheriff and Register of Probate.

Technically the commissioners vote was to pass two resolutions.

Under the first resolution, they agreed to seek permission from the Administrative Council of Judges to add the Grand jury room to the space that the county rents in the state-owned courthouse. Under this new plan, the sheriff would move into the first-floor space now occupied by the county attorney, and the Register of Probate would remain in place.

Under the second resolution, the commissioners voted to seek 2,000 square feet of suitable commercial space in Lancaster outside the courtroom, this in the event that the Council turns their request down.

The Council is scheduled to meet on Jan. 28.

Previously, Probate Administrative Judge David King of Colebrook has said he would be reluctant to give up the Grand Jury room when the state's court system is in the midst of so much change.

In voting "no," Commissioner Grenier said that he could not support the proposal to seek the state's permission to rent additional space, this despite Judge Peter Bornstein's order that calls on the commissioners to find the county attorney "suitable space."

"I can't support these resolutions," Commissioner Grenier explained. "This is the tail wagging the dog."

He complained that "this guy" demonstrates a disregard for taxpayers' interests.

Commissioner Grenier said that the three-way space switch which Mr. Mekeel had nixed would have provided the him with some 1,600 square feet that would have been "more than adequate."

"This guy should stay in the courthouse," Commissioner Grenier continued, adding that if the county attorney moved out of the courthouse then he would come back next year to ask for $50,000 for security.

"This guy is never going to end" his complaints, Commissioner Grenier said, noting that he is extremely displeased with how "this guy is conducting himself" and that his uncooperative stance is "an abuse of his office."

Although chairman Burnham "Bing" Judd of Pittsburg said that he agreed "100 percent" with Commissioner Grenier's sentiments, he believed that he had to support the first resolution in order to keep the county attorney in the courthouse. Chairman Judd also noted that he believed that preparing the sheriff's office and Grand Jury Room for occupancy by the county attorney would cost only about half as much as the previously. That tab would have been in the $75,000 range.

Commissioner Tom Brady of Jefferson said that he supported the resolutions because they would serve to satisfy the court order issued by Judge Bornstein and also avoid a second lawsuit.

Attorney Waystack will now go ahead and prepare a formal request to submit to the state Administrative Council of Judges.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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