Gurnee Mayor Kovarik, Trustee Morris continuing political rivalry for April election

Trustee running to unseat Gurnee mayor

Updated 12/27/2012 11:03 PM
  • Kristina Kovarik

    Kristina Kovarik

  • Kirk Morris

    Kirk Morris

Two Gurnee political rivals will continue with their differences, this time as mayoral opponents.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik will have to defeat Trustee Kirk Morris to gain a third 4-year term. Morris was elected as a village board trustee in 2009.

Kovarik and Morris have been at odds for more than three years since she removed the trustee's private foundation as developer of the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park in honor of troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, on taxpayer-owned property on Old Grand Avenue.

Morris sued the village government and Kovarik over her decision in January 2010. Kovarik said Morris accomplished little toward bringing Heroes of Freedom to reality from 2004 through 2009.

Village board members approved a lawsuit settlement Wednesday that'll include a $200,000 payment from Gurnee's insurance carrier to the foundation for design work and other efforts to improve the vacant 1-acre site. The Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation -- named for the trustee's son, a Marine who was killed in Iraq in 2004 -- also will be allowed to use the Heroes of Freedom name.

Saying he wanted to be sure the lawsuit settlement was in place, Morris filed the necessary paperwork to run for mayor just 40 minutes before the legal deadline Wednesday.

"I think we need to bring back integrity and honesty and some common sense to the (mayor's job)," said Morris, who was unsuccessful when he ran in a Republican congressional primary in 2008.

Morris' decision to run for mayor was somewhat surprising, Kovarik said, but she's ready for the challenge and believes residents have been satisfied with her leadership.

"I love the Democratic process," Kovarik said. "The voters should have a choice."

Kovarik was a trustee when she defeated Donald Rudny to become mayor in 2005. She crushed Trustee Greg Garner and Anthony "Tony" Maniscalco in 2009.

On the issues, Morris objected to a $139,000 retirement/settlement package for former Police Chief Robert Jones that a village board majority, with Kovarik's backing, approved in September 2011.

Documents later released by the village, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, showed Jones was accused of sexual harassment and using employees for personal errands in internal complaints when he opted to retire with the deal.

Kovarik said Gurnee could have faced a large legal bill if it persisted with an investigation of Jones and that the severance package was proper and in accordance with village personnel policies.

Morris claimed trustees didn't have enough time to study the eight-page agreement involving Jones and that the public should have been given details about his departure. He said Kovarik has been behind some "foolhardy decisions" that spurred him to run for mayor.

"I'm fired up, pumped up and ready to roll," Morris said.

Kovarik said she's as energized as Morris for the campaign. She contends Morris is not always prepared for village board meetings and doesn't offer meaningful explanations about his "no" votes on issues.

"He's not as engaged as my experience has been with other trustees or when I was a trustee," Kovarik said.

Morris was one of two trustees who voted against spending about $14,000 as the village's share of the continuation of a Gurnee's Got It! marketing campaign in 2011. Kovarik pushed the idea to boost village retail sales, but Morris questioned the campaign's effectiveness.

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