Smith County Courthouse Renovation Plan

A roadblock for proposed renovations to the Smith County courthouse. The County Commissioners found out the renovations would cost almost $6 million but that does not include upgrades to the courthouse's security.

Three District Judges went before the Smith County Commissioners to address their security concerns about the courthouse.

"I will be off the bench so this is not self interest. This is really what is needed to address the concerns inside that courthouse built for two courtrooms now has seven courtrooms," says Judge Cynthia Kent, 114th District Smith County.

One after another, Judge Cynthia Kent, Judge Kerry Russell and Judge Jack Skeen addressed the commissioners about security issues not included in the estimated $6 million renovation plan.

"There are some security issues that are taken care of in here. I for one am not interested in receding my vote," says Commissioner JoAnn Fleming, Smith County Precinct 1.

But commissioner JoAnn Hampton wants the court to listen to the judges.

"My opinion is if they do not feel secure, they have asked us time and time again to look at the security issues at the courthouse to come up with a comprehensive plan to make sure that we have taking everything that they had into consideration," says Commissioner JoAnn Hampton, Smith County Precinct 4.

For almost an hour County Commissioners listened to their comments about what to included in the courthouse renovation.

"It is not the judges who are concerned about their own safety in this situation. The concern is for members of the public, jurors that are down here every week as well as witnesses that are in the hallway," says Judge Jack Skeen, 241st District Smith County.

"Even with this remodel you have prisoners coming out of the jail, walking through the public corridor right next to the jurors, the witnesses, the victims of crime," says Judge Cynthia Kent.

Judge Kent says that's not safe for the public.

"I don't think that's what the tax payers of this community need is to have after we spend, I would say waste $6 million, a facility that doesn't meet our needs," says Judge Cynthia Kent.

In the end, the commissioners voted to look at another option that will address their security concerns.

"I hope what will happen is that they will move at least 3 or 4 of the courtrooms out of the courthouse if you are going to remodel that courthouse do it in a way that is secure to the number of courts that can fit in there," says Judge Cynthia Kent.

Judge Kent says she appreciates the commissioners willingness to look at a different plan to renovate the courthouse. She suggests possibly including the county's criminal courtrooms as part of the county's proposed new jail.

The security upgrades that Sheriff J.B. Smith proposed would cost $2.6 million, almost half the amount budgeted for the courthouse renovations.

The new plans will be done at the end of May.

Karolyn Davis, reporting.