Judge asks Board of Alderman to make city court building, staffing improvements

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When Baldwyn City Hall moved into its new home on Main Street in April 2018, the former location assumed the full-time role of Baldwyn’s municipal court. Since then, however, not much has been done to improve the facility – and it’s showing.

Baldwyn City Court Judge Tommy Comer spoke to the Baldwyn Board of Aldermen earlier this month to give them an idea how problematic the facility had become and asked the City to make improvements to not only the building, but also its staffing.

“With COVID going on we’ve had to utilize the whole building. Something has to be done about the building,” Comer said. The judge told aldermen that many times there was no paper in the bathrooms, that Court Clerk Mariea Burress has an office that only two people can be in it at a time, and he had serious concerns about safety in the facility.

“Let me tell you about the people in Baldwyn,” Comer said. “We’ve got some good people, but we’ve got some bad people in Baldwyn. We’ve got some people in there (who) I’m thinking they’re going to come over the podium and get me. These people have an attitude – white, black, whatever. I’ve got to be stern with them. I’ve got to raise my voice and they don’t like that. We’ve got security while court is going on. (Clerk Burress) has got a lot of money and handles this while court is going on. I’m afraid one of these days somebody’s going to go through that locked door and go after her.”

This isn’t the first time concerns have been brought to the attention of the Board of Aldermen. On at least two occasions in the last two years the Board has discussed issues with the building and potential improvements, but so far nothing has been done. In both previous instances concerns were raised by Board member Lynda Conlee about the availability of funds to handle renovations and repairs, with Mayor Michael James saying there was money available. 

Judge Comer told the Board that according to his records the city has collected $107,000 in seven years in court costs and fees, and with the current docket load – 200 or more cases are heard at the court each month – and the addition of an assistant clerk, Burress could be freed up to seek out and write grant requests that could provide additional funding.

“I’m really begging you to do something to that building to make it a nice place,” Comer said. “It is a nice place; it just needs to be nicer. It’s been in disrepair for a while. And get (Burress) an assistant so we can progress like we have in the past. I’d like to work with the city to make improvements in that building. And I’d like to see if we could get some kind help for the court clerk, maybe a part-time clerk. While she’s there she takes calls from the police, etc. She keeps a log of every call. I don’t see how she gets anything done.”

Comer noted that of all the city courts he works with, Baldwyn’s is the only court with just one clerk; every other court has at least two.

Conlee asked Comer about the possibility of having court twice a month instead of just once a month to help break up the case load and take pressure off the facilities. Comer said that could be done, but it would tie up police officers an additional day while they are there to help with the crowd and security.

It was also noted by Alderman Lee Bowdry that there is no janitorial service keeping the place up, and the bathrooms are not in good shape. 

Bowdry made a proposal to allow Mayor James to get proposals on the changes and repairs that have been discussed and recommended during past Board meetings, and James told The Baldwyn News that he is expecting to meet with a contractor this week to get an idea what all is needed at the building and what to expect in the way of costs.