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updated: 7/18/2012 5:13 AM

Contested Gurnee troops memorial will likely be built

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  • Gurnee is required to build a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan under a lawsuit settlement with a village trustee who had tried to spearhead the project through his private foundation.

       Gurnee is required to build a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan under a lawsuit settlement with a village trustee who had tried to spearhead the project through his private foundation.
    PAUL VALADE | Staff Photographer, 2010

 
 

Gurnee would have about a year to build a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan under a tentative lawsuit settlement with a village trustee who had tried to spearhead the project through his private foundation.

Trustee Kirk Morris' foundation and the village struck the proposed deal Monday in Lake County circuit court. It came before a scheduled jury trial for the case that pitted village government against the Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation, named for the trustee's son, a Marine who died in Iraq in 2004.

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Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park would be constructed on public land at Gurnee's "sole cost" on or before Aug. 1, 2013, according to the proposed settlement. Private donations could be used with public money to pay for the memorial as previously conceived by Morris' foundation, court documents say.

Morris' attorney, Robert O'Donnell, worked on the settlement Monday with lawyers Julie Tappendorf and Ellen Emery, who represented Gurnee. Lake County Circuit Judge Wallace Dunn signed the tentative agreement, which requires village board approval.

"That document, from our perspective, represents everything the foundation hoped for and much, much more," O'Donnell said.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik declined to comment on the case Tuesday but said the village board will take up the matter at a meeting Aug. 6.

"It'll be discussed at an open board meeting and voted on at an open board meeting," Kovarik said.

Emery said the tentative lawsuit settlement can't be formally entered in court unless approved by a village board vote.

In 2010, Morris sued the village over Kovarik's decision to remove his private foundation as developer of Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park on the publicly owned 1-acre site where Gurnee's police headquarters once stood on Old Grand Avenue. Morris claimed the foundation had a right to finish the project.

Morris' suit originally was dismissed by a Lake County circuit court judge in 2010. However, a mixed appellate court decision sent the case back to Lake County, with a limited focus on whether Morris' foundation was entitled to at least $200,000 in compensation for having improved the village's land for the stalled memorial.

However, the case didn't make it to a jury trial Monday. Instead, the parties hatched the tentative agreement that would require the village to:

• Install life-size bronze statues of Geoffrey Morris, Lance Cpl. Sean Maher of Warren Township and Army Spc. Wesley Wells of Libertyville. All three died in battle in 2004 or 2005. Morris' foundation had been trying to raise private donations to pay an estimated $200,000 for the statues.

• Construct a retaining wall with a waterfall feature and formal landscaping.

• Build interior sidewalks with benches.

• Assume responsibility for the memorial's maintenance and insurance.

Morris' foundation would provide the village any materials, plans and specifications it used for the memorial. The agreement also would require the foundation to give the village the right to use the Heroes of Freedom Memorial name.

Controversy over the memorial erupted in October 2009, when Morris and Kovarik began publicly feuding. Kovarik contended that the foundation accomplished little in the five years it was unofficially in charge of the memorial plan.

Gurnee village board members agreed in March 2005 to establish a memorial park in remembrance of U.S. military personnel who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Morris' foundation wasn't named in the resolution, and no construction timetable was set.

Morris, who was not a trustee in 2005, later assumed fundraising responsibility. He said he had intended to build the memorial on property he owned until village officials approached him about placing it on the former police station site.

Nine flags representing every military branch and lights, which are no longer on the land, were the most visible work done on the memorial from March 2005 until the dispute arose in 2009. Then Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and military officials attended a dedication ceremony in April 2005.

As part of the settlement agreement, another memorial dedication is supposed to be a joint effort by the village and Morris' foundation.

Morris said, by all accounts, the Gurnee area has lost seven soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said a community that has "sacrificed in this war on terror" deserves the memorial.

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