Barbour Aborts Building Takeover

While under scrutiny from the Jackson Free Press and other government officials, Gov. Haley Barbour is backing off his expensive idea of moving his and other offices into the Sillers Building in downtown Jackson.

Barbour announced last November that he was directing the Department of Finance and Administration to develop a new plan for housing state agencies in the building, including the offices of Medicaid, the Mississippi Development Authority, the State Auditor's office and the State Treasurer.

But several days ago, Barbour updated his order, now asking only for floors 18 and 19 of the 20-story building, leaving the Attorney General's office below Floor 18 intact.

"We looked at the possible expense and decided that just those top floors would be more cost-beneficial," said Department of Finance and Administration Director J.K. "Hoopy" Stringer.

The governor's staff and the Mississippi Development Authority first abandoned the Sillers Building in 2000 in preparation for renovations begun months later in 2001, but Barbour said last year that it was time for his office to reclaim its old location.

His 2005 announcement came as a surprise to the office of Attorney General Jim Hood, which had been told years ago by the Department of Finance and Administration that they would be in the building by 2006. The state has already spent $28 million to design those floors specifically for the A.G.'s office.

Renovating the Sillers Building has been neither cheap nor easy thus far. The $28 million used to refurbish the building for the A.G.'s office was already $1.7 million over budget, according to a 2005 Clarion-Ledger article, and DFA had no projection last month on how much additional money the new renovation costs for the governor's office would cost.

The governor's decision might have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in new renovation costs, however, and put at risk the attorney general's state-of-the-art cyber-crime unit slated to occupy the 17th floor, which features expensive, designated wiring and card-reading evidence lockers, none of which would be of use to the governor's office.

Previous newspaper articles did not touch on the costs for the amended renovations. Seeking specific numbers on the new reconstruction, The Jackson Free Press made an information request on Feb. 9, 2006, for payment vouchers and electronic funds transfers to vendors or contractors for services and materials, as well as requests for bid proposals and contract copies from vendors looking to perform the new renovations required by the governor's office.

After the maximum 14-work-day waiting period for providing public information had expired, Department of Finance and Administration Public Information Officer Kym Wiggins scheduled a March 13 appointment with the Jackson Free Press to review the documents. Wiggins abruptly changed the appointment on March 13, however, saying DFA did not have all the requested information.

"We've got the original floor plan drawings for the A.G. and Medicaid, and cost information for the original project, but the only (post-November 2005) contract we have is for a (floor) design professional … and we have not gotten them, yet. We also don't have cost information," Wiggins said, promising contract expenses later this week.

Last November, Stringer told The Clarion-Ledger that the state would spend $500,000 just to move the governor's furniture.

Former DFA Executive Director Gary Anderson reported in 2001 that moving the offices of then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove from the Sillers Building to the Woolfolk Building would cost more than $3.3 million that year. It is likely that Barbour's aborted plan would have cost more because the Sillers Building, unlike the Woolfolk Building, is not designed to hold the governor.

The issue of renovation costs bubbled over in the House of Representatives on March 10, when Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, began bickering with Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, on his decision to read all bills aloud as a late-evening stalling tactic.

"I know the building was wired for some other agency. Hell, I didn't even know what agency, but I was interrogating the chairman, and I asked him if he was aware that the building was wired for another agency, while the governor was taking it, and he said 'no,' but said he would check that out," Holland said.

Attorney General Jim Hood said he would be grateful if Barbour changed his mind about taking the whole building. "The Sillers Building was designed specifically for the A.G's office, and it has the requirements of the A.G.'s office in mind," Hood said.

"Our attorneys can't work in a cubicle-style office like the governor. We need private rooms with real walls in order to speak with our clients. The ceilings have to be a certain height on the cyber-crime unit floor to hold the computers and technology used there. There were many design specifications that would be wasted."

Hood could not comment on setbacks involved in losing the top two floors. "Right now my offices are sitting in three different buildings. Any consolidation under one roof would make life easier for us," Hood said.

Previous Comments


Does the Guv have a beef with the AG? I know they're in different political parties, so it seems like something is amiss.



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