ILNews

Debate over historic Brown County courthouse continues

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

At one of the state’s most-visited tourist crossroads stands a courthouse at a crossroads of its own.

Nestled in the rugged, rolling hills of southern Indiana, the rustic Brown County courthouse in Nashville feels more at home in the 19th century than the 21st, and plenty of folks say that suits them fine. But officials worry.

They say the building doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is no security to speak of, and space for jurors, lawyers and clients isn’t sufficient. And the clerk’s office doesn’t even have enough space for files.

brown-courthouse-rendering-2-15col.jpg An architect’s rendering of the Brown County courthouse in Nashville shows the original structure – roughly the front third – with a proposed $6.5 million expansion that residents overwhelmingly rejected last year. Community discussions now are weighing various alternatives. (Photo submitted)

“We’re not addressing those things,” Brown County Commissioner John Kennard said. “We have a horrendous lack of room. It’s an 1870s building. … We’ve got people that are working in an old vault.”

Last September, about 200 people signed a petition for the county to borrow nearly $6.5 million to expand the historic two-story brick structure and address a laundry list of needs. Taxpayers and registered voters revolted, gathering nearly eight times as many signatures in opposition, snuffing the project for at least a year.

“We got killed,” Kennard said. “A lot of issues in Brown County get emotionally charged.”

That was the case with the courthouse initiative. He believes many people felt shut out of a process that began with a courthouse energy audit and evolved into an out-of-town architect’s detailed proposal for a renovation and expansion to address needs identified by courthouse users.

Local leaders got the message after the remonstrance. Since September, groups have held numerous public community conversations to talk about those needs and possible solutions, leaving all options on the table. Kennard wishes those kinds of discussions had taken place earlier.

“It is a fascinating matrix of issues – tradition, location, obviously, and how to preserve the traditional and meet the modern-day needs,” said William C. Lloyd, a Bloomington attorney who lives in Brown County.

Lloyd serves as volunteer counsel for the Brown County Community Foundation which, with the local League of Women Voters, has sponsored numerous meetings inviting public participation to talk about and study various options for the courthouse and how to meet needs.

Foundation CEO Larry Pejeau took the helm shortly after the courthouse expansion was shot down by voters, but he’s lived in Nashville since the 1970s.

“It’s a pretty interesting county,” he said. “We have some old families here that had businesses in Nashville for some time and feel the quaintness of Nashville is important and say, ‘Leave it the way it is.’”

Architectural renderings of a two-story addition to the old courthouse struck some nerves, even though pains had been taken to maintain the historic structure and ensure new construction reflected its style.

“It was very polarized a year ago,” Pejeau said. “People are at least talking now.”

Pejeau said there are voices advocating for construction of a new courthouse near the sheriff’s department on State Road 46 east of State Road 135, away from the commercial center of Nashville, or retrofitting an inn that is for sale. Those options would allow for repurposing the existing courthouse, which is the center of a historic square that also includes a log jail and the Brown County Historical Society’s Pioneer Village.

Others would have none of that. They favor slight modifications to the current courthouse to comply with the ADA and bolstering security while finding needed space elsewhere. “Some people just say, ‘No, the courthouse has been good for 100 years, do what you need to do and keep it here in town,’” Pejeau explained.

Subgroups have formed to explore various options, and they’ve reported back with their findings from time to time. That’s given people an opportunity to more closely gain perspective about what the needs are and help determine the best way forward.

Brown Circuit Judge Judith Stewart is happy to be part of the discussions but, perhaps judiciously, she’s not taking sides. “I think it’s going to be up to the public, the commissioners and the council,” she said.

Various plans have pros and cons, Stewart said, “and I have no position on those. … I’m just trying to explain where I think some of the needs are.”

Stewart said the courthouse does need better security – not just for the public but also a secured entrance for people in custody whom deputies transport to and from jail. The jury room is too small, and facilities are such that sometimes she and jurors come into contact outside the courtroom.

“It’s tough for folks who don’t work in the environment every day to see,” she said.

Kennard has asked residents to see for themselves what the needs are, but few are willing. But it’s only a matter of time, he said, before the county’s hand may be forced. “All it would take is somebody to walk in there and file (an ADA) complaint, and you’re going to have to address it.

“We need to decide what we’re going to do, and where we’re going to do it,” he said, but he’s not optimistic about a consensus developing in spite of efforts to draw the community together. “We continue to stir the pot. I’d say it’s going to be a long time before there’s a decision.”

But Pejeau is optimistic. He expects meetings regarding the courthouse will continue to take place. “I think what people like,” he said, “is this is just a really good process.

“Nobody doubts there are ADA issues and security issues that need addressed,” he said. “People are very aware of that. … I think we’re slowly coming to some consensus as to what’s best for the community.”

Pejeau credits Kennard and other local leaders for engaging in the community discussions in a county with a unique set of circumstances. Being a bucolic tourist destination isn’t always easy.

“Brown County has a brand, and we have an infrastructure you can’t build. It’s a beautiful place to live, and that’s why people want to live here,” he said.

But that also presents some challenges. With just 15,000 residents, the population is among the state’s oldest and, at the same time, healthiest, Pejeau said. An influx of retirees attracted by the desirable environment has raised the cost of property and in some cases priced out younger families.

The vast Brown County State Park and state forest land also puts about half of all property in the county off the tax rolls, leaving fewer landowners to cover the bills for government services.

Pejeau noted there is no industry of any significant size in the county and no big-box stores, either of which normally would pay a greater share of taxes. At the same time, that’s part of the lure – “a blessing,” Pejeau said of the local mind-set.

And just as residents last year came together with a resounding “No” to a proposal they didn’t agree with, Pejeau said the response to that also says something about the county.

“For the most part, it’s been a very healthy conversation in the community, I think.”•
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

ADVERTISEMENT