ELYRIA — The feud between Lorain County commissioners and the county’s General Division judges over the old Lorain County Courthouse is escalating.
On Monday, court officials accused commissioners’ employees of deliberately locking the doors and cutting the power on the upper levels of the more than century-old building last Wednesday, the day before city inspectors were scheduled to tour the building.
“I don’t blame them for turning the lights off,” Administrative Judge James Burge said. “If I were leasing property like that, I wouldn’t want anyone to see it either.”
County Administrator Jim Cordes and county Facilities Director Karen Davis both denied that they were trying to cause problems for the county’s Adult Probation Department, which is housed in the old courthouse and overseen by the judges.
“I’m trying to make sure that anything they’re complaining about is fixed,” Cordes said.
Davis said the doors were locked because of complaints about security at the building such as numerous break-ins, including reports that a homeless person had taken up residence inside the old courthouse. She also said the power was briefly turned off so workers could deal with electrical issues, including fixing illuminated exit signs.
“There was no ill intent,” Davis said. “It was just us trying to do our jobs.”
County workers are replacing missing ceiling tiles and burned-out light bulbs throughout the building, fixes Davis said that were suggested by city inspectors who were called in by Burge to review health and safety problems the judges believe exist in the building.
The inspections came after the commissioners didn’t agree to Burge’s request that the unfinished fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center be turned into new office space for the Probation Department.
County officials have said the cost of that project, estimated at between $2.4 million and $2.8 million, is too expensive and suggested that the Probation Department instead be relocated to 374 Broad St.
The cost of that is pegged at around $1.3 million, but Burge and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda have both said they don’t like the idea of probationers hanging out in downtown Elyria.
Burge has given the commissioners until May 2 to accept the fifth-floor plan or he plans to issue a court order requiring the county to fund renovations to the old courthouse. In addition to city inspectors, who were asked to leave during an inspection earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court has dispatched staff to review the security at the old courthouse at Burge’s request.
Neither the city nor the Supreme Court has issued completed reports on their findings, court and county officials said.
Commissioner Tom Williams wrote in an email to Cordes and other county officials last week that the ongoing dispute makes those involved “look like a bunch of children fighting.”
Williams said Monday that the egos of those involved were interfering with working out a resolution to the dispute.
“We have to do a better job communicating to them what’s going on,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Kalo rejected Williams’ complaints about how the Cordes and Davis were dealing with the situation. He said the county is simply responding to problems at the old courthouse.
“I don’t think we’re acting childish at all,” Kalo said. “When we were told the building’s not secured and we had somebody living there, we secured all the doors.”
Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said he finds it suspicious that county officials knew about the security problems for months and only addressed them last week on the eve of the inspection.
“The antics regarding the courthouse have been characterized as childish,” he said. “I think the commissioners have sunk to a new low and their behavior can now be characterized as infantile.”
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.