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posted: 4/15/2014 5:30 AM

Gurnee mayor addresses park plans to township

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  • Kristina Kovarik

    Kristina Kovarik


Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said she didn't mean to slight Warren Township government by keeping secret her plan to have a park named for the village's longest-serving elected official.

Warren Township shares responsibility with the village and Gurnee Park District for what now is Richard A. Welton Village Plaza, a 1-acre site on Old Grand Avenue. Welton was Gurnee's mayor from 1973 to 2001.

Kovarik was invited to Monday night's township board meeting to make a presentation on the plaza honoring Welton a little more than a month since the Warren officials noted they didn't know about it until the plan became public.

"You guys know me," Kovarik said, "and sometimes I get to running so fast and so many things going on, I forget sometimes to do the nicety of coming to my partner and saying, 'Here's what's going on' and keeping you guys up to date. This one ran just as fast as I run. I should have been here sooner."

Kovarik said she wanted to keep the idea "a closely guarded secret" so she could surprise Welton before he was invited to village hall for a meeting last month at which Gurnee trustees gave their thumbs-up. She added government officials aren't good at keeping mum.

In 2012, the Gurnee Park District, Warren and the village entered into a joint agreement on property improvements and maintenance for what originally was supposed to be a memorial park for soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The name had been Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park.

Plans for the taxpayer-owned land had been in limbo since 2010, when former Trustee Kirk Morris sued the village after his private foundation was removed as leader of the Heroes of Freedom effort.

Morris and Kovarik began publicly feuding in 2009 after she accused his foundation of being incapable of building the memorial to troops who died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Under a lawsuit settlement approved in 2013, Gurnee's insurance carrier paid $200,000 to the ex-trustee's Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation for design work and other improvements the group made to the public land. The foundation was named for Morris' son, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004.

As part of the deal, the village agreed to remove the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park name from the property and return the rights to the foundation. Kovarik said that move prompted her to seek the Richard A. Welton Village Plaza.

Plans call for bronze markers indicating Gurnee milestones and Welton's contributions in an area just east of the Des Plaines River, which is Gurnee's original section known as village center. Trees would line a walkway to the circular area where visitors would hang out, possibly even with Wi-Fi access.

Warren Township Supervisor Suzanne Simpson endorsed having the park bear Welton's name. The other township officials also backed the plan.

"He's been a huge, enormous influence on Warren Township and the village of Gurnee," Simpson said of Welton.

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