Residents of the village of Gurnee, Ill., simply wanted to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind wives, children and extended family and friends — and then they ran into Mayor Kristy Kovarik.
PFC Geoffrey Morris, USMC
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, people in and around the Chicagoland town of 32,000 have buried seven of their beloved men who died while wearing the uniforms of their country on faraway battlefields: Sgt. Edward G. Davis III, 31, Marine Corps; Sgt. Jason C. Denfrund, 24, Army; Spc. Joseph W. Dimock II, 21, Army; Capt. Shane R. Mahaffee, 36, Army; LCpl. Sean P. Maher, 19, Marine Corps; PFC Geoffrey S. Morris, 19, Marine Corps; and Army Spc. Wesley Wells, 21.
For nearly three years, Gold Star Dad Kirk Morris has been engaged in a legal fight, the goal of which is to construct a public memorial that will be known as the Heroes of Freedom Memorial and serve to honor men like those listed above, including his son Geoffrey, who died in combat in Iraq on Palm Sunday, April 4, 2004.
Mayor Kristina Kovarik
Sadly, Morris finds himself up against Mayor Kovarik in a battle that makes little sense.
On Jan. 4, 2010, soon after Kovarik took office as the new mayor, she vetoed a development agreement between the village and the PFC Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation, founded by Kirk Morris, that had been approved by a 5-0 vote of Gurnee’s board. In response, officials with the foundation filed suit, seeking monetary damages from the city. The foundation had, after all, spent a sizable amount of money to develop the site in preparation for construction.
When the case finally appeared on the verge of going to trial July 13, attorneys representing Gurnee raised two settlement options with their counterparts representing the foundation. Important to note, neither option presented was conditional or subject to further approval by the board or the mayor.
In court the morning of July 16, Gurnee’s lead attorney informed Judge Jorge L. Ortiz that the village had made offers to settle the matter and that it need not go to trial.
According to the foundation’s Response to Motion to Vacate filed Aug. 22, the case was resolved on terms proposed by Gurnee officials after some minor revisions by lead foundation attorney Robert T. O’Donnell. As a result, the village was able to avoid a trial in which the mayor would have been called as an adverse witness.
In the same document, O’Donnell offered his description of what happened next:
…almost immediately upon leaving the courthouse and achieving its goal of avoiding trial that day, the Village and, specifically, the Mayor, attempted to backtrack from the very agreement it reached hours earlier. Over the next two weeks, the Village engaged in a series of acts that misrepresented the events of July 16 and undermined the settlement process supervised by Judge Dunn.
The foundation’s basic argument, according to the same filing in the Circuit Court of the 19th Judicial Circuit in Lake County, Ill., is as follows:
On July 14, the Village, through its attorneys, made an unconditional settlement offer. On the morning of July 16, Village attorneys represented to Judge Ortiz that the case could not proceed to trial because the offer provided the Foundation with all the relief to which it was entitled. Later that morning, Village attorneys represented to the Foundation and Judge Dunn that they were in contact with the Mayor and that all negotiations that morning were fully authorized by the Village. Based upon those unequivocal statements, the Foundation agreed to discuss the settlement with the Village. With the Court’s knowledge and supervision, the final settlement, based upon a proposal made by the Village, was reached on July 16.
The Court should reject the Village’s renunciation and enforce the terms of the Agree Order.
After using a half-dozen points to rehash the key points of his argument, foundation attorney McDonnell offered this conclusion:
The Village cannot be allowed to say and do whatever is necessary to avoid a trial, and then after succeeding to do so, avoid the consequences of its decision by hiding behind the fact (misrepresented as it was) that the Villages’s Board did not approve the actions of its attorneys and Mayor. Carried to its logical extreme, no Court or opposing party could ever be assured of a settlement with a municipality absent a resolution or ordinance of that municipality. Yet, that is not done, because the parties and the Court are permitted to, and do, rely upon the representations of counsel that they are acting with authority. For all of the above reasons, the Village’s motion should be denied.
The case is set for another court hearing before Judge Margaret Mullen Oct. 9 in Gurnee. For more nitty-gritty details, read this document.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please accept my apology and let me know if I’ve missed recognizing any Gurnee natives whose names should also appear on the list of heroes above. I will gladly add their names to the list. Thanks!
UPDATE 1/19/2013 at 7:36 p.m. Central: I received word today from a reliable source that Kirk Morris is now running for mayor of Gurnee, Ill. — against Kristy Kovarik. This should be interesting.
Bob McCarty is the author of “Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice,” a nonfiction book that’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com. His second book, “The CLAPPER MEMO,” is set for release this fall.