Courthouse debate rages on at public meeting


James Bullock, 73, of Rootstown, voices his opinion at the Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna during a public meeting about the future of Kent’s branch of the Portage County Municipal Court Monday night. Photo by Anthony Vence.

A crowd of about 150 people gathered at the Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna Monday night to discuss the possibility of moving the municipal courthouse outside of Kent.

Everyone seemed to agree the current courthouse, located on South Water Street, is dilapidated. It has drafty windows, a leaky roof and not enough space to house criminals. However, an agreement has not been reached when it comes to choosing a new location.

“We are here because we are Americans, and it is our absolute right to participate in our government,” Portage County Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio said to the crowd. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing here tonight.”

She said the two-acre site, which everyone kept coming back to as a possible new location, cost $1.6 million — which is too expensive for the endeavor.

Possible sites discussed in the past include the mostly unused shopping plaza near the intersection of state Route 43 and 261 and the vacant lot behind Jimmy John’s on Main Street.

“If it’s really true that there’s just no acceptable site in the city of Kent except one that costs $1 million, maybe we should look somewhere else,” she said.

Marsilio also wondered what operational costs would be for the new building. She said the project has a budget of $2.5 million. The county would need to borrow $6 or 7 million to build the facility, and then the debt would be paid off through the Special Project Fund set up by the Kent Municipal Court judges.

Marsilio has been a proponent of moving the courthouse outside of Kent. At a commissioners’ meeting in mid-March, she put forward that idea. But the Ohio Revised Code states the courthouse must be located in Kent, so moving it elsewhere would require an official change to the law.

Titus Jackman, a lawyer in Kent, said if the location is moved out of Kent, it would face a lot of opposition from the Statehouse in Columbus.

Then Judge Kevin Poland took the podium.

“I hope we’re all clear that it will not cost the taxpayers one dime to build,” he said of the new courthouse, adding that it will be covered by court costs. “(Still) it would be absurd to spend $1 million when we could get a site for half of that.”

Judge Poland went on to further detail the courthouse’s poor conditions, pointing out that with only one small holding cell, a female prisoner must be handcuffed to a chair in the magistrate’s office because of the lack of space.

Poland said another major issue is parking. Most of the land in Kent isn’t big enough to house a new courthouse and the required 134 parking spaces. The plaza next to Mike’s Place is big enough, but there are some issues with the sewer.

Poland, however, was strongly in favor of keeping the courthouse in Kent.

“I think that the City of Kent is where this court should stay,” he said, “And I don’t think we should be trying to change the law and further delay this process another two years.”

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller agreed with Poland’s final sentiment, saying Kent is in the middle of a large amount of criminal activity.

“We try to run our city like a business,” Ruller said. “Good or bad, the criminal market is happening right around us.

Usually, when you’re in the business world, you want to be in the middle of your market.”

After the meeting, Marsilio said she thought it went well.

“I heard two things over and over: people tired of us fiddling and talking, and they want something done,” she said. “And I think, very clearly, we have a public mandate to be smart and responsible with this building.”

Contact Nicole Hennessy at [email protected] and Allison Smith at [email protected].