Thompson: New federal courthouse to be in Greenville, not Cleveland

Published 7:48 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2007

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson says a new federal building will be constructed in Greenville, not up the road in Cleveland, as a federal judge who lives in Cleveland had wanted.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says it will not intervene in site selection, which would be necessary if a federal courthouse were to be built in Cleveland, Thompson, D-Miss., said this past weekend.

“They’ve sent a letter indicating that they really don’t have a dog in the hunt, that if the building is in the community, if the community wants it and there’s a suitable site, so be it,” Thompson, whose Delta congressional district includes both cities, said during a news conference in Greenville.

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Thompson said the General Services Administration will choose a site for a new, up-to-date building in Greenville. The current federal building dates to 1958-59. It was expanded in 1972.

Since March 2006, U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper has lobbied federal officials to consider Cleveland as the site for a new building that will include the courthouse and other federal offices.

Pepper has commuted the 35 miles from Cleveland to Greenville since being appointed to the bench in 1999.

Thompson said the procedures for moving the court would have required the chief judge of the 5th Circuit to ask the Administrative Office of the Courts to look into the matter. That has not been done and will not be done, according to a letter sent to the Greenville Division Federal Courthouse Committee by Chief Judge Edith H. Jones.

In a Dec. 14 letter, Jones wrote: “Please be assured that neither I nor the Judicial Council of the Fifth Circuit intends to intervene in the matter, which falls within the purview of GSA, landlord to the federal government.”

Even if someone with the Judicial Council’s authority wanted to have Cleveland considered, the deadline for doing so this year was this past Friday, Thompson said.

“There’s nothing to slow it down now,” Thompson said. “We’re looking forward at some point, to getting under way with building a new building once the site is located, here in Washington County.”

Pepper told GSA officials that Greenville’s high crime rate makes it a bad location for a new federal courthouse. In a June 8 e-mail to Joel Rovinsky, the project architect, the judge complained that a June 5 report by Rovinsky did not address security issues.

Greenville officials say their city’s crime rate is similar to Cleveland’s. Greenville leaders worried that moving the federal offices out of the city would hurt the downtown area.

City officials and business leaders who fought to keep the court in Greenville were among those attending Thompson’s news conference.

“It’s wonderful news that we’ve been waiting on for quite some time,” said Mayor Heather McTeer Hudson.

She thanked Thompson for keeping the promise he made to Greenville when he pledged support.

Al Rankins, president of the Washington County Board of Supervisors, said: “We’re fighting to hold on to what we have here to make it better for our people here in Washington County and Greenville.”