Gurnee settles lawsuit with trustee over memorial to troops

Gurnee board members OK plan to reimburse foundation

Updated 12/17/2012 10:30 PM
  • Kirk Morris

    Kirk Morris

Gurnee village board members Monday night approved a lawsuit settlement with Trustee Kirk Morris' private foundation, which tried to build a memorial to troops who died in Afghanistan and Iraq on public property.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik said in a prepared statement the deal with Morris' foundation will save the village from incurring the expense of constructing a second memorial in Gurnee because one for Warren Township war veterans already exists at police headquarters at O'Plaine Road and Washington Street.

The settlement ends a controversy that began more than three years ago.

Morris' foundation will receive $200,000 from the village's insurance company to reimburse the foundation for claims about money spent on design and other efforts for Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park, which was supposed to be built on 1 acre owned by the village on Old Grand Avenue.

"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.

The cost to the village to construct these improvements would have been in excess of $800,000," Kovarik said.

Village board trustees voted 4-0, with two abstentions, in favor of the settlement. Abstaining were Trustee Greg Garner and Morris.

"Absolutely I'm glad it's over," Morris said after the vote. "I'm glad it's over because we can move forward."

In July, another proposed lawsuit settlement eventually fell apart. That tentative agreement was reached just before a scheduled jury trial for the case that pitted village government against the Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation, named for the trustee's son, a Marine who died in Iraq in 2004.

Controversy over the memorial erupted 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.

Kovarik said the 1-acre site on Old Grand Avenue will be improved with help from the Gurnee Park District and Warren Township government. She said the property still will be called Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park in accordance with a village resolution.

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