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Conflict in County Courthouse over office shuffle

November 28, 2018

The Platte County Courthouse basement is full of space, but it’s not exactly an ideal office location.

That was the sentiment shared by many at Tuesday’s Platte County Board of Supervisors meeting when discussing the feasibility of moving a county office into the lower portion of the courthouse building.

District 1 Supervisor Tom Martens said County Attorney Carl Hart Jr. approached the Buildings and Grounds Committee inquiring about additional space for his department.

Located at 2610 14th St., the courthouse is home to many of the county’s offices. The County Attorney’s Office is operated out of the third floor along with the office of the Election Commissioner and Veterans Services. Hart said at the meeting that the current office space constraints make it difficult for his office to operate properly.

“This is a long-term kind of problem, and it’s going to involve a long-term solution,” Hart said. “In the short term, we can keep hanging in there.”

Martens and District 2 Supervisor Jerry Micek, both on the Buildings and Grounds Committee, said one of the departments on that floor could be moved to the basement to make room for the County Attorney’s staff. The basement formerly housed the Platte County Nebraska Extension Office for decades until it moved last year to a building at 2715 13th St. The property was purchased by the county for $172,000, as previously reported by The Telegram.

Now primarily used for storage, Micek said the basement is full of usable space.

“Frankly, it would be a much nicer set up downstairs,” Micek said about the basement. “And I know there is plenty of room down there, and it can be very nice.”

As there was a desire to keep all of the attorney’s office staff on one floor, Martens and Micek both agreed that moving the Election Commissioner to the basement to make room for the County Attorney was the best course of action.

Although Supervisor Hollie Olk is a part of the committee, she said she hasn’t been part of the discussion regarding the potential move. The idea was first discussed at the board’s the Nov. 13 meeting, which Olk was absent from. She requested more time for further discussion before any action was taken on the matter. She also asked for feedback from the Election Commissioner Diane Olmer on the potential move.

Board Chairman Jerry Engdahl said he’s against moving any department to the basement.

“We spent $250,000 to move one department out of the basement, and now you’re talking about moving someone else in -- kind of blows my mind,” Engdahl said.

District 3 Supervisor James Scrow said he wants to hear from all parties involved before moving forward with any vote.

“I’d like to hear from all these departments that are going to be affected,” Scrow said. “Where do they stand now and how are they going to be in the future, because I don’t want to have move people around and then two years from now we get a request for more room.”

Olmer spoke to the board about her the potential move to the basement. She said she was against the move and felt not included in the discussion on the matter up until this point.

Her main concerns about moving to the basement are with accessibility and dampness. She said her office keeps voting records back to 1872 and was concerned with the basements damp conditions. She also expressed concern about mold and voting machine not working in a moist environment.

“I don’t think it’s fair or ideal,” Olmer said. “If it wasn’t good enough for the Extension Office, why is it good enough for the Election Commissioner?”

The board also discussed at the meeting potentially moving the office of Veteran Services to make space for the Attorney.

Veterans Service Officer Eric Mullally spoke at the meeting against any move. If his office were to be moved, he said he would rather go to the first floor over the basement. He added that the departments being considered to be moved should have been involved earlier in the discussion before the idea made its way to a board meeting where it could be voted on.

“Well I have no desire to move our office space,” Mullally said. “It’s very frustrating because you’re not a part of the process until it’s dropped in your lap, with no other consideration given.”

Hart also experienced a desire at the meeting to not be moved to the basement. At the meetings end, a vote on the matter was not conducted. Instead, the board collectively agreed to kick the idea back to the Buildings and Grounds Committee for further discussion.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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