While we were indeed glad to learn that the Harrison County Health Department has been granted a one-week extension for moving its offices out of the county courthouse by the county commission, it is certainly our hope that the commission will continue to accommodate the department in its eviction move to a downtown building.
Commission Administrator James Harris informed us that in addition to the week's extension before the department makes its move out of the courthouse and into the Policano Professional Building -- it is a smaller, less accessible site -- any further delay would be on a day-to-day basis. He claimed that a $25,000 sum available from the commission to the department for the move had not been drawn from nor even sought as of this time.
We hope that the commission will take into account the fact that moving such a large agency as the health department to a different locale -- it will not even be on the ground floor -- will be a time-consuming process. Harris said the department was assured that if it had the lease agreement for the new site executed and in place, the commission could see no problem with the week's delay.
Although the March 31 deadline had been established some time ago, we still fail to see the great rush in evicting the health department.
Current Harrison County Judges Thomas A. Bedell and John Marks have advised the commission that a third courtroom and staff officers will be needed for a third circuit judge, created by the state Legislature in 1999. The judge is not even scheduled to take office until January 2001. Will a full nine months really be needed for renovations? We strongly doubt it.
There has been considerable acrimony between the commission and the health department that has stemmed from the forced move. Commissioner Thomas A. Keeley claims that the commissioners have no choice in the matter, that "it's the law. We have no discretion. It's called a courthouse and we have to take care of the courts first."
The Thrasher and Friedlander buildings downtown were two other finalists in the search. The Friedlander's site was the choice of some of the employees of the health department. We, too, believe that a ground-floor venue, which has existed for years in the courthouse, would have been far more suitable for the health department than most any other agency -- including quarters for a third judge.