With the Pike County election commissioners about to move into the Election Central building behind the courthouse in Magnolia, the county’s public defenders — who have been using the building — will soon find themselves without a home.
On Friday, election commissioners — who have been using the old board of supervisors building — asked supervisors for help in planning their move.
Supervisors authorized paying architect Steve Cox — with whom they have a standing contract — up to $1,000 to help commissioners with space planning for furniture and equipment.
The public defenders will have to move out, and supervisors have yet to come up with a viable space.
Supervisors had considered moving them into the board of supervisors building — an old house south of the courthouse — but public defender Paul Luckett said it needs significant renovations before they can move in.
Next they talked about offices used by the now-defunct Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Enforcement Unit in the back of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks building on Highway 51 North, Magnolia. But some of those offices are occupied by sheriff’s investigators, and Luckett said public defender clients would be reluctant to go there.
In a letter to supervisors, Luckett asked them to provide temporary quarters until they reach a solution.
“No matter where the board decides to relocate the public defenders, it may be 10 months before the new office is ready for occupancy,” Luckett wrote. “With that being the case, the public defenders will need the following: the ability to make copies for clients, meeting space, telephone services, email access and facsimile services. In brief, we will require a temporary office.
“Because there doesn’t appear to be any appropriate office space available in Magnolia, I have researched the McComb area and there seems to be several businesses offices for rent. I am respectfully requesting that the board find suitable, temporary office space for the public defenders.”
Supervisors bounced several ideas around Friday — such as moving the solid waste and-or 911 departments from the building they share near the courthouse into the old Magnolia health department, and putting the public defenders in the solid waste/911 building. But they didn’t come up with a solution.
“We need to know what we are required to provide,” said board president Chuck Lambert, asking board attorney Wayne Dowdy to find out.
Lambert also noted that four of the current supervisors won’t be on the board after the end of the year, as three are retiring and one was defeated in a recent election. Whatever supervisors decide needs to be acceptable to the incoming board, he said.
“This is something I can assure you won’t be finished by the end of December,” Lambert said. “They (public defenders) will have to move out in a couple weeks.”
In a related matter, resident Jerry Gressett complained that the public defenders office appears to be inaccessible. He said he called the number listed in the phone book 16 times Friday morning and got no answer, nor was he able to leave a message.
“Pick up the telephone to call the public defenders office and see if you can get him,” Gressett said. “He needs to have a way to be connected to.”
The public defenders office consists of three part-time attorneys — Luckett, Nelson Estess and Toby Welch — and an investigator, Lance Falvey.