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updated: 12/24/2012 5:47 PM

Gurnee, foundation close to ending veterans memorial dispute

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  • Kirk Morris

      Kirk Morris

  • Kristina Kovarik

      Kristina Kovarik

 
 

A resolution to a bitter dispute over where and how to build a memorial in Gurnee for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan could be around the corner.

Gurnee village trustees will hold a special meeting Wednesday to approve returning the "Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park" name rights to the Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation and pledging not to use it again.

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The move is part of a "mutual release agreement" between the foundation and village that officials hope will end a lawsuit when both sides are due to appear in Lake County court Jan. 3.

"This gives a whole new meaning to the word 'do-over,'" Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said Monday. "The agreement has been rewritten and amended but the board has to vote on it."

Trustees will meet at 5:30 p.m. at village hall, 325 N. O'Plaine Road, to vote on the new settlement.

Last week, village trustee and foundation leader Kirk Morris backed off on a settlement that would have reimbursed the foundation $200,000 for design work and other efforts for a one-acre site owned by the village on Old Grand Avenue.

Under the new proposal, the village agrees to remove the name "Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park" from the existing site and return the name and its rights to the foundation.

Kovarik said there is no sign at the park at 4575 Old Grand Ave. that must be taken down.

The foundation is named for Morris' son, a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

"We're going to build the memorial. It won't be in Gurnee. There will be a big announcement in March," said Morris, who was not on the Gurnee board when trustees approved the memorial. "This project has been so polluted and so poisoned over the years. It doesn't make sense to built it here. We're going to build it somewhere else."

Controversy over the memorial began in October 2009, when Morris and Kovarik began feuding. Kovarik argued that 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, arguing the foundation had a right to finish the project.

A Lake County circuit court judge dismissed Morris' lawsuit in 2010. However, an 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 because it improved the village land for the stalled project.

Kovarik said she believes trustees will approve the revised agreement Wednesday.

"I can't see any reason why they wouldn't," she said, adding the village will work with other government agencies to make the site into a parklike area.

"We've always had a beautiful veterans memorial. It really was the previous (village) administration that started this in terms of a second memorial," she said.

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