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posted: 12/8/2012 8:00 AM

Trustee settles with Gurnee again over memorial for troops

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  • Kirk Morris

    Kirk Morris


Gurnee Trustee Kirk Morris has struck another settlement agreement with the village regarding his private foundation's unsuccessful effort to build a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan on public land.

Morris said the deal calls for the foundation to receive $200,000 from village government. The settlement, which he said should go before the Gurnee village board for approval on Dec. 17, was entered into Friday in Lake County circuit court.

"I'm OK with it because we need to move on," Morris said.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she had yet to receive the settlement documents and declined to comment.

Another agreement in July, which eventually fell apart, was reached just 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.

At an August meeting, Gurnee village board members voted 4-0 -- with Morris and another trustee abstaining -- against the first deal that would have ended a three-year controversy over Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park. The settlement would have required memorial construction on a one-acre site on Old Grand Avenue where Gurnee's police headquarters previously stood, which is what Morris had wanted.

Controversy over the memorial erupted in October 2009, when Morris and Kovarik began feuding. Kovarik contended Morris' foundation accomplished little in the five years it was unofficially in charge of the memorial and raising private money to build it on the public property. In 2010, Morris sued the village over Kovarik's decision to remove his foundation as developer of Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park. 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.

Nine flags representing every military branch and lights were the most visible work done on the memorial from March 2005 until the dispute arose in 2009. After the controversy arose, Morris and his supporters removed the flags and lights.

Under the foundation's initial plan for the memorial, private donations would have paid for 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.

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. Then-Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and military officials attended a dedication ceremony in April 2005.

Morris' foundation wasn't named in the March 2005 resolution, and no construction timetable was set. Morris, who was not a trustee then, later assumed fundraising responsibility. Provided the settlement gains village board approval, Morris said, he intends to build the memorial in another town.

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