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updated: 4/9/2014 11:16 PM

Councilman did not want to settle Elgin lawsuit

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  • John Prigge

    John Prigge


An Elgin council member says he disagreed with the city's decision to settle a federal lawsuit earlier this year with a company operating a mobile health screening van.

Councilman John Prigge said he voted "no" in closed session in January when the city council decided to approve a settlement with Life Center Inc., operating as TLC Pregnancy Services, which filed the lawsuit in March 2013.

Prigge said he's free to speak out after the settlement order was signed by a judge last month. He was not the only one to vote "no," he said.

"I did not want to settle it because if we were going to get a black eye from this, I wanted it to be a black eye from the full fight, and not giving up after we already committed $250,000 for this," he said.

TLC, a faith-based organization, provided free weekly ultrasound services from a mobile unit parked at JB's Pub and the Evangelical Free Church of Elgin.

In fall 2012, city officials ordered TLC to stop, saying the ultrasound facility broke a new city ordinance allowing the practice only up to four days per year.

Elgin's lawsuit expenses included a $250,000 in legal insurance deductible, plus $280,000 in TLC's attorney fees as per the settlement.

Prigge said that, while he supports anyone who provides free medical services, he also believes in the city's right to set its own zoning regulations.

As part of the settlement, the city council unanimously approved allowing nonprofit agencies' mobile units to operate once a week for up to 52 days a year.

Councilman Rich Dunne said he agreed with city staff's recommendation to settle, especially because neither party admitted fault. "That was important to me," he said.

Still, settlements can give people the wrong impression, Councilwoman Tish Powell said. She declined to say how she voted.

"If you settle, people automatically think you're admitting guilt," she said. "The council made its decision in the best interest of anyone involved, including the Elgin taxpayers."

Councilman Terry Gavin and former councilwoman Anna Moeller said they, too, voted to settle.

"It was a mess, it shouldn't have got to a lawsuit," Gavin said.

Moeller, now the state representative for the 43rd District, agreed.

"We probably would have come to the same resolution without attorneys involved."

Moeller was criticized by some TLC supporters for involving Police Chief Jeff Swoboda in the matter before the lawsuit was filed.

Moeller said she called Swoboda when she saw the TLC mobile unit parked by JB's. She didn't know who owned the unit, she said.

"There was no signage associating it with a hospital, a health clinic or any organization," she said. "I wasn't thinking about zoning at the time, I had never seen anything like that."

Swoboda later informed TLC staff their permit had expired, she said.

Councilman Toby Shaw said he also voted in favor of the settlement. He supports TLC, including financially, he said.

"From the moment I was sworn onto the council I sought ways to end the dispute as quickly as possible," he said.

Shaw said he took part in settlement hearings with Elgin Mayor David Kaptain and the city's legal staff.

Councilman John Steffen did not return a call for comment.

The lawsuit was an unintended consequence of the city's decision to change its zoning regulations in 2012, Kaptain said.

That decision affected not just TLC, but all mobile units such as blood donation and eye exams, he added.

"People need to pay more attention at what goes on at the city council level, and staff and council members have to take a deeper look -- including myself," he said.

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