DA, commissioners reach agreement on security at Caldwell Building

Barbara Miller
Observer Reporter

After more than three hours of negotiations Monday afternoon, District Attorney Gene Vittone and the Washington County commissioners hammered out an agreement on security for the building that will house Vittone’s staff.

President Judge Katherine B. Emery mediated what County Solicitor Mary Lyn Drewitz called “alternative dispute resolution.”

Vittone and two staff members last week requested an injunction, but about two hours into negotiations, which stretched past the usual 4:30 p.m. courthouse closing time, the district attorney expressed optimism an agreement was at hand.

Members of the board of commissioners later emerged from Emery’s conference room and Commissioner Harlan Shober announced, “We’ve reached an agreement. I think there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the line.”

Both the newly-purchased Caldwell Building at 26 S. Main St. and the courthouse will have the same safety accommodations, Vittone said.

X-ray machines for purses and bags, plus metal detectors have been standard at the courthouse for quite some time.

Commission Chairman Larry Maggi said, “We’re looking at what’s available.”

Vittone’s office staff has been packing boxes, but the move will not take place this weekend. He expects his staff of 30, who have offices in several courthouse and Courthouse Square locations, to eventually be housed under one roof.

It will be up to the commissioners to obtain occupancy permits and make sure the Caldwell Building meets codes.

“Just as soon as those things have been acquired, Gene’s assured everyone they will use their very best efforts to move just as quickly as possible as soon as the space is made consistent with the terms of the agreement that we settled today,” Drewitz said.

The actual document is to be filed Tuesday morning.

The commissioners, she said, “have always striven that everyone is as safe as we can be in a free society.”

Sheriff Samuel Romano, who was not named in the injunction request filed Friday, nonetheless came to court with his office solicitor, Christopher Blackwell

“They need more security over there,” Romano said as discussions took place behind closed doors.

“We’re willing to provide it, but we need more manpower.”

Romano, who has approximately 40 deputies, said two more could handle security at the Caldwell Building’s entrance while a third would be needed to relieve the pair during lunch and breaks.

The county purchased the Caldwell Building Aug. 6 from George Sprowls for $400,000.

The need to reshuffle courthouse space has been on the radar screen since 2017 when the legislature approved expansion of the existing Washington County complement of six judges.

Traci McDonald-Kemp won both major-party nominations in the May primary and Gov. Tom Wolf, near the close of the legislative session in June, nominated her to fill the vacancy through the end of the year.

She is to be sworn in Friday, Aug. 30, as Washington County’s seventh judge. Space for her courtroom and chambers have necessitated changes within the courthouse.

McDonald-Kemp’s name will be on the November ballot as the sole choice for a full, 10-year term on Washington County Common Pleas Court.

McDonald-Kemp must resign as a district judge before becoming a Common Pleas Court judge. The elections office has already determined her Cecil Township-based magisterial seat will appear on the 2021 ballot for a six-year term.