Gurnee village board members Wednesday night approved a retooled lawsuit settlement with Trustee Kirk Morris' private foundation over its effort to build a memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan on public property.
Under the deal, Gurnee's insurance carrier will reimburse $200,000 to the trustee's Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation for design work and other efforts for a one-acre site owned by the village on Old Grand Avenue. The foundation is named for Morris' son, a U.S. Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
But unlike a similar settlement that Morris backed out of last week after his board colleagues gave their approval, the village agreed to remove the name "Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park" from the Old Grand Avenue site and return the rights to the foundation.
Trustees voted 4-0 in favor of the lawsuit settlement, which is expected to be entered in Lake County circuit court Jan. 3. Trustee Greg Garner was absent and Morris abstained from voting.
Before casting his vote, Trustee Steve Park said too many conflicts and emotions have developed over time for Morris' foundation and village government to work together on the project.
"What may have started out as a cooperative effort has obviously collapsed," said Park, who was not on the village board when the dispute developed in 2009. "And while I can appreciate the motivation for creating the memorial, the truth is, there can be blame assigned on both sides of this equation. At this time, there is no sense of trust or cooperation on either side."
Controversy over the memorial began in October 2009, when Morris and Mayor Kristina 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. She contended residents were not being served well by what became an eyesore on public property.
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.
Lights and nine flags representing every military branch 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.
Morris said he intends to announce in March plans for construction of the Heroes of Freedom memorial in another town. He contended the village never had a right to the Heroes of Freedom name because he received a federal trademark for it -- a point that was disputed by lawyers who represented Gurnee in the lawsuit.
"This is a victory for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan," Morris said of the lawsuit settlement.