Windber magistrate: Moving on down the road — literally — due to dispute over political sign
It was political signs that forced the Windber Magisterial Office to relocate.
It was Windber District Judge William Seger who called and informed court officials about the large political sign hanging off the building during the 2020 election cycle.
Since that time, negotiations by court officials with the property owner, Wilmore Coal Co., were unsuccessful to a point that the owner included the right to hang political signs in the proposed new lease, forcing the county to move the magisterial office, according to Somerset County Court Administrator Tammy Escalera.
The old lease expired Thursday.
Messages seeking comment were left at Wilmore Coal Co. headquarters Friday. However, the office appeared to be closed.
"The court must always stay neutral. Even in the appearance, it must stay neutral," Escalera said. "Another tenant (the landlord) hung those political signs and because we shared that same building, we then became affiliated with that political activity, which is not permissible for the court."
The move costs the county, and thus, the taxpayers. However, Escalera was able to save the county $12,000 by obtaining an Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts grant for $12,000 to enhance security.
"Up until that point the court had been happy with the status quo of that office (along Somerset Avenue)," Escalera. said. The Windber Magisterial Office had been at 1409 Somerset Ave. for about 14 years. There was no move to relocate until the political signs became an unsolvable issue, she said.
The total cost for the move has not been finalized. The commissioners awarded a bid to Fisher Construction LLC of Somerset for renovation of the interior of the office for $64,465 and to the P. Joseph Lehman Inc. of Hollidaysburg for consulting engineering for an estimated $23,987, according to Sonya Augustine, the county's chief clerk.
Some of the bills are still outstanding, Escalera said.
The 10-year lease with the property owner, Rullo Family Partnership, is for $1,300 a month. The county was paying Wilmer Coal Co., owner of the Somerset Avenue location, $1,500 per month, according to county documents.
The good news is there "is much more parking available at the new location," Escalera said.
This week the relocating that was ordered by President Judge D. Gregory Geary, that involved temporarily closing the magisterial office to move furniture, equipment and files, has gone well and will be finished so that the doors will be open to residents and lawyers at 1510 Jefferson Ave. in Windber Borough, Seger said.
In fact, on Monday, the first day of the move, there were "a lot of people here to help" including county maintenance, Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts staff, technical workers, the court administrator and her staff and, of course, Seger and his staff, he said.
Since the new office is smaller, there had to be some thoughtful maneuvering going on at both places.
"We try to declutter things. We filled two to three dumpsters full. Not court things, we have a process for that, but other things we don't need," said Seger, who is the elected official to run the Windber magisterial office.
On Thursday, there were several boxes that needed emptied and their contents put away. Some of the furniture was being assembled.
"The issue right now is we are trying to fit things that won't fit," Seger said outside a furniture moving truck backed up to the doors with its new magisterial detail. "But we are adapting," he said.
The key locks have changed. The keys to the former office were turned in on Friday by Seger.
Security at the new location has been enhanced.
"They (court officials) are paying more attention to security," Seger said. "It wasn't as much of an issue before, but now it is a big consideration we have to deal with. It is a reality."
The newly located District Court 16-3-02 in Windber will be open for business at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Follow Judy D.J. Ellich on Twitter at @dajudye.