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Consolidation of St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office fuels political arguments

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CANTON — Everyone agrees the St. Lawrence County District’s Attorney Office needs more space in a single location in the courthouse, but Monday’s report to the county Board of Legislators on efforts so far and reactions to it were more finger-pointing than a handshake across the aisle.

Space Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, was called out last week by Legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, and other Republicans for not informing legislators on the status of any reorganization of offices. At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Morrill read aloud an 11-page report on background, the request from Republican District Attorney Mary E. Rain, various options explored, cost points, time constraints and staging.

The need is there, Ms. Rain said.

“It is a crisis in this office. It’s a public safety concern. It’s dignity for my witnesses,” she said. “I cannot have an office where I have four different locations. These are all things that aren’t experienced by other departments.”

The main district attorney’s office is on the second floor of the courthouse’s new wing. Lack of room means some assistant district attorneys work in the basement. Files are scattered. Ms. Rain is the fifth district attorney to ask for better offices, to include a conference room and privacy for victims.

Ms. Rain wants to take over the county Planning and Real Property suites, which also are on the second floor, leaving what is now her primary office behind. County and Supreme Court offices on the first floor could move into the district attorney’s old space. The county attorney could move from the second floor of the Public Safety Building to the first floor court office. Planning could move into the county attorney’s space.

A new home for Real Property, which has 13 employees along with a number of large maps and equipment, would be more difficult, as it is tied to the Clerk’s and Treasurer’s offices, and so needs to remain in the courthouse.

A cost has not been finalized, but could top $600,000.

A plan to move some of the staff of the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services from the overcrowded Harold B. Smith building to the Canton Human Services Building was delayed last year because of a lack of money.

“I asked to report tonight and I did,” Mr. Morrill said. “It may have been painful.”

Mr. Morrill criticized Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire for having her own meeting of department heads to discuss the issue. Ms. St. Hilaire said she was not trying to derail the Space Committee, but had asked department heads to put aside their self-interest.

Mr. Morrill also blasted Mr. Parker, a member of the Space Committee, for not coming to meetings and then spreading rumors that some department heads were unhappy with plans.

Mr. Parker wasn’t present, but other Republicans lashed back against Mr. Morrill’s tone.

The Space Committee, which also includes Legislator Donald A. Peck, D-Gouverneur, lacks the respect of department heads, said Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, who added that a different group should complete the work.

Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, didn’t replace any committee’s members but added Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg. A recommendation may come in a month.

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