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posted: 2/13/2010 12:01 AM

Gurnee trustee sues village over memorial

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  • Kirk Morris

      Kirk Morris

 
 

Gurnee Trustee Kirk Morris has filed a lawsuit against the village and mayor over her effort to remove his foundation as the developer of a memorial on public land for troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik contends the foundation accomplished little in the nearly five years it was unofficially in charge of building Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park, where police headquarters once stood on Old Grand Avenue. Morris has disputed the claim.

On Friday, a day after he filed the lawsuit, Morris said he hopes the action serves as a catalyst to bring both sides together to discuss the memorial's future. He said he didn't want to sue the government he was elected to represent in 2009.

"It was a painstaking decision, to be honest about it," Morris said.

Although controversy over Heroes of Freedom erupted in October, it boiled over Jan. 25 when village trustees voted 3-2 against overriding Kovarik's veto of an agreement that officially named the foundation to raise private cash and develop the project.

Kovarik and the village were named in the complaint lodged Thursday in Lake County court by the trustee and his Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation. The foundation is named for Morris' Marine son who died in the Iraq war in 2004.

Morris wants a judge to issue an order declaring he and the foundation have a right to exclusive use of the "Heroes of Freedom Memorial" name, and that the village cannot prevent him from completing the project. Morris has U.S. trademark and service marks on "Heroes of Freedom Memorial."

Unspecified damages also are sought from the village for work the private foundation performed to improve the publicly-owned, 1-acre site on Old Grand Avenue. The foundation spent an estimated $200,000 on the park.

"It would be unjust for the village to reap the benefit of the foundation's improvements to the property and its work on the memorial without any compensation to the foundation," the lawsuit states.

Kovarik said she had yet to receive the lawsuit Friday. She said Gurnee will have to spend public money on lawyers to address the litigation.

"I am surprised a sitting trustee would sue the very people he was elected to represent," Kovarik said. "There were certainly plenty of other alternatives."

Under the agreement, Morris would have had to meet several construction timelines and finish Heroes of Freedom by Dec. 31, 2014. He said Kovarik's refusal to be specific about why she soured on the deal forced him to file the lawsuit.

As of last month, nine flag poles representing every military branch and temporary lights were the most visible work done on the memorial since March 2005. A garden, bronze statues projected to cost $250,000, a walkway and benches had not been built.

Morris and some supporters removed the flags and disconnected the lights after the village board did not overturn Kovarik's veto Jan. 25. Morris recused himself from discussing the memorial or voting on the veto.

Kovarik said she still wants a memorial for the Iraq and Afghanistan troops, just on a smaller scale than envisioned by Morris.

Morris was not a trustee when he began the memorial effort. He said he took on the project at the request of village officials in 2005 and created the foundation.

In supporting Kovarik's veto, Gurnee Trustee Cheryl Ross questioned where the foundation's money has gone. Internal Revenue Service documents from tax years 2005 to 2007, the most recent available, show Morris raised $202,700 and spent $247,638.

Morris said the $44,938 deficit is from a personal loan he made to his foundation. He said he's not concerned about receiving repayment.

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