When the Merced County District Attorney's office moved into its new facilities in the old County Bank building on M and Main Streets in October of 2011, a plaque was placed on the wall outside of the office listing the names of those who were responsible for the project. It included the architectural firm, the members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors, District Attorney Larry D. Morse II, and former County Executive Officer, Larry Combs. Missing from the names on the plaque, according to Morse, was the county official most responsible for getting the project accomplished, former Merced County Executive Officer Dimitrios Tatum.
On December 24, Morse corrected what he termed "a serious oversight" by presenting Tatum with a new plaque to hang on the wall that includes Tatum's name. "We literally would not have been in this building these last seven years were it not for Dee Tatum's innovation and leadership," Morse said.
In the summer of 2006, shortly after Morse had taken office, a fire gutted the old county courthouse on 21st and M Streets, followed soon after by a flood at the building they also shared with the Probation Department and the Public Defender's office across M Street. The two calamities forced the District Attorney's office to seek new lodgings. That began a five year odyssey in which the DA's employees were scattered among five buildings in downtown Merced at an annual rental cost of $350,000 a year. "It was a logistical and management nightmare having our employees spread all over town," Morse said, he set about finding office facilities that would house all of the DA's Merced employees on one location.
, At the time, County Bank, which had become a casualty of the Great Recession beginning in late 2006 and closed its doors in February of 2009, had shuttered its flagship office building at Main and M Streets and it sat empty and slated for the auction block. When Morse learned the building was going to be sold he approached Tatum and inquired about the possibility of the county acquiring the building for use by the DA's office.
"Too often in government we hear again and again why things can't be done. It gets very tiresome and frustrating," Morse said. "That was never Dee's attitude. To the contrary, he liked the idea and said he'd see what we could do." County general fund dollars were not an option, but Tatum quickly identified federal and state tobacco tax funds that Merced County possessed as a source for purchasing the building. "As Dee was fond of saying, the tobacco tax revenue could only be used 'for sticks and bricks,'" Morse said. However, the purchase and renovation of the County Bank building was a permissible use of the tobacco funds and Tatum immediately put together a successful $7 million bid through local relater Mike Salvadori to buy the nearly 30,000 square foot building and adjacent parking structure and allocated another $3.4 million for a complete retrofit and remodel. In October of 2011, the District Attorney staff moved into its new facilities. Morse described being able to put all of his employees together in a central office "one of my proudest moments as District Attorney."
Morse also lauded the purchase of the County Bank building as one of the county's best financial moves. At the time the building was purchased the county was mired in the recession and had already abandoned plans for a new office building to house the District Attorney as the cost had soared to nearly $20 million, he said. "Without Dee's vision, we would have continued to rent buildings far into the future. Instead, we have a beautiful, functional office that will serve the District Attorney's needs for decades to come," Morse said. He noted that the county's general fund has already saved nearly $2.5 million in rent payments and that figure will continue to grow.
The District Attorney's office also serves as a downtown anchor tenant, Morse said, and its more than 80 employees contribute significantly to the downtown economy. "To have had the foresight to seize an opportunity and green light this project during the midst of a crushing recession was courageous, fiscally shrewd and a testament to Dee Tatum's management skills," he said. "Unfortunately, Dee had retired as County Executive Officer before the project was completed and dedicated and his name was inadvertently omitted from the plaque placed on the building," Morse said.
"If anyone's name deserved to be on the District Attorney's office building, it was Dee Tatum's. It always rankled me that it was missing and I'm delighted to have been able to correct that error," Morse said.