The New York Times has a colorful little story about a debate in Mississippi County over the possible closure of the courthouse in Osceola, thus consolidating county functions into its counterpart in Blytheville.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t know that counties with two seats of government were such a rarity, or unique to our neck of the woods. Evidently so:
Most of the counties with two seats — 20 — are in Arkansas and Mississippi, the National Association of Counties said. But there is scarce agreement about why those counties adopted such an approach.
Many residents, often supported by local historians, contend that multiple courthouses are vestiges of the pre-automobile era, constructed so that people could be within a day’s travel of public officials like judges and tax collectors.
Others suggest that the imposing structures — the one here features a copper dome — were merely pork-barrel projects to aid the electoral ambitions of calculating county politicians.
Evidently, the question about whether to consolidate county functions into the larger town of Blytheville will be put to a popular vote in 2016. A group in Osceola is fighting to keep their courthouse open. The county judge, Randy Carney, says the sensible thing to do is to consolidate:
“It’s the centerpiece of the town, but it’s not busy,” he said in an interview in the courthouse here. “We have to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, and I think throwing tens of thousands of dollars away every month in utility bills and maintenance costs is just not wise.”
The article doesn’t mention another reason why a county might have wanted to have dual seats in the days before easy travel: Being traversed by a river. That was supposedly the case in Franklin County, where I grew up (it was Ozark north of the Arkansas, Charleston to the south). But Mississippi County has no such excuse. The only thing between Osceola and Blytheville is I-55 and the bad blood of a mismatched football rivalry.