Gurnee trustee changes mind about lawsuit settlement with village over memorial
Gurnee Trustee Kirk Morris says he wants to scrap a lawsuit settlement with village government over his private foundation's effort to build a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan on public land.
His decision comes one day after trustees voted 4-0, with two abstentions, in favor of having the village's insurance carrier pay a $200,000 settlement to the Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation. The foundation is named for Morris' son, a Marine who died in Iraq in 2004.
Morris' attorney said the deal was off Tuesday and the settlement was not entered as planned before Lake County Circuit Judge Margaret Mullen. The $200,000 was meant to reimburse the foundation for claims about money spent on design and other efforts over roughly five years for Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park. It was to be built on 1 acre owned by the village on Old Grand Avenue.
Attorney Robert O'Donnell and Morris said comments made by Mayor Kristina Kovarik regarding the settlement at Monday's village board session led them to not accept the deal. Kovarik said she read a statement prepared by village attorneys that alluded to a previous tentative settlement with Morris that trustees rejected in August.
"Trustee Morris' demand that the village should build and pay for an expensive waterfall and life-size bronze statutes on property located in the floodway never made any sense and received no support when considered by the village board earlier this year," Kovarik said in part. "The cost to the village to construct these improvements would have been in excess of $800,000."
Kovarik said the public had a right to know why the village was settling with Morris for $200,000 and that everything she read was accurate. She said Tuesday an attorney representing Gurnee informed her about Morris' decision to reject the settlement.
"Nothing with them surprises me," she said.
O'Donnell said Morris, who abstained from Monday's vote, never proposed what Kovarik read into the record at the village board meeting. He contended all of what Kovarik mentioned was her idea.
"She made a number of erroneous, inflammatory and actionable comments," O'Donnell said.
Both sides are expected back in Lake County court Jan. 3.
In July, the settlement that fell apart was reached just before a scheduled jury trial for the case pitting the Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation against village government. The village board voted 4-0 — with Morris and another trustee abstaining — against the first deal that would have ended the three-year controversy over the memorial park.
Part of the first proposed settlement would have required memorial construction on the Old Grand Avenue property where Gurnee's police headquarters previously stood, which is what Morris had wanted.
Controversy over the memorial began 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 argued the foundation had a right to finish the project.
Morris' suit 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 land for the stalled project.
Nine flags representing every military branch and lights were the most visible work done on the memorial from March 2005 until the dispute in 2009. After the controversy arose, Morris and his backers removed the flags and lights.
Morris was not a trustee when 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 at the site in April 2005.
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