Mayor Kovarik read the following statement:
Tonight I would like to advise the Board and residents of Gurnee of the action I am taking on the Development Agreement Ordinance involving the PFC Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation. I have three choices – sign it; which I haven’t done yet, not sign it and it passes at the end of this meeting without my signature, or I can veto it.
My job is to execute flawlessly based on the direction and wishes of this Board. The Board has saddled the Village with a terrible situation that is impossible to execute against so I’ve got the floor to state my objections.
This one-sided debate has sounded like it was about the memorial but it was NEVER about the memorial. If Kirk Morris had been truthful in his e-mails, on the radio, in the paper and with his supporters he would have stressed that fact but he conveniently left it out. This has never been about the memorial. When I met with Mr. Morris I stated 3 x’s – the property would remain the HOF Memorial Park.
The dots have never been connected, there was never a workable, feasible plan for completion and this whole project is unsustainable and creating a maintenance and expense burden for the Village. Our first and only obligation is to the citizens of Gurnee, to do no harm to the Village and set plans or policies in the best interest for the greatest good.
The Board opted to avoid conflict and hurting someone who has suffered an unspeakable loss. I can’t imagine the pain for the Morris family of sacrificing a child for this country. I am so so sorry for the Morris’ loss. However, sitting here as elected officials our first and only responsibility is to the taxpayers of this community.
A good idea needs more than passion and goodwill to come to fruition. It needs professionals with the right expertise to execute and complete the idea. The people who have good ideas are rarely the same people who are able to execute against those ideas. Kirk Morris has let his mouth overload his capabilities. This is about gross incompetence since the beginning of this proposal in February 2005. The Board voted December 21st to continue a bad situation. Bad situations do not get better with time or with the involvement of the same parties. The only difference the agreement makes is that we have some leverage when it continues to fail. What an oxymoron – we own the property, we have a process in place to review any and all development, we have staff in place with the right expertise – but the best we can do is pass an Agreement that gives us leverage when this fails.
This project has been a failure from the minute the Resolution was passed. There isn’t one specific example of past performance over the last 5 years that would give you any indication of future success.
This isn’t about the Memorial. My discussion with Kirk Morris was to let him know that the project had been mismanaged, his foundation did not have the wherewithal or expertise to complete a project this complex but that they still have the opportunity to carry out their plan in the future once they raise sufficient funds to do so, but in the meantime the area is owned by the Village and under the Village’s jurisdiction and we will take care of it while still paying proper respect to the young men who gave their life in service to this country.
Think about the process we normally go through before reaching a decision about anything that gets built in this community. First, we would expect a due diligence be performed on any agent or contractor prior to entering a written agreement. There has been no due diligence on this Foundation. No review of qualifications. This Foundation, and specifically Kirk Morris, has taken every opportunity to misrepresent the facts, blame the Village for their own mistakes, smear the reputation of the staff who have done nothing but try to help even though Mr. Morris REFUSED to follow their instructions and then when we exercise our rights as the landowner the first reaction is to threaten us with a lawsuit. Is this an entity that the Village would do business with under any other circumstances?
Think about the process we normally go through before approving any type of development in this community and especially an overlay district. We don’t let someone build a tool shed without our scrutiny. These plans, referred to as Exhibit A, were never reviewed by staff. SMC is the only entity that ever reviewed these plans. And guess what, SMC’s job is to only review them for compliance with the Watershed Development Ordinance. Our staff is the ones who would ensure this project meets our building codes and ordinances. And then you have the whole process where the Plan Commission and this Board would review the project and then decide if this is the proper fit for Gurnee and if this is a contractor we want building it for the Village.
Let me point out other flaws with this Agreement. The Board agreed to put in sidewalks and benches in 2010. We don’t have any money to do that. How do you look a taxpayer in the eye and tell them we are cutting other services so we can spend time, money and resources on this project. And even if we had the money – what is the point of putting in sidewalks and benches to nowhere and to nothing? Do you honestly think the $250,000 for the bronze statues is ever going to get raised? You’ve granted the Foundation the right to pour 100 yards of concrete underground. What do you suppose we do with that when the $250K bronze statue never shows up? We’ve obligated ourselves to the maintenance of a memorial without any thought to the cost of that maintenance. There has been no thought given to the time, money and resources required and the design never once contemplates practicality. Why should it – it certainly isn’t the Foundations problem. And I could write a dozen pages about the geo-technical issues that will present itself 5 years from now and 10 years from now. Just look at the flagpoles to get an idea of just the tip of the iceberg as to how serious the problem is on that property. But that isn’t the Foundations problem – it’s ours. And don’t bring up the demolition. I’ve checked the facts and the minutes. Never once, not once, was staff or the contractor told that there was going to be a half-million dollar memorial on this property much less a regional memorial. It was torn down in the name of flood mitigation and was supposed to be open space. Staff was misled, the Board was misled and the public was misled. So people should not be misled to believe that this project originally had proper planning. The first step of any reputable developer or contractor in any construction project is to do a Phase 1 assessment of the property to explore existing conditions.
The Board has agreed to a money pit when we can ill afford one. There is a better way to handle this project. It was always my intent and I know it is the Board’s intent that it would remain the Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park. There are professionals ready, able and willing to come up with a design that is in the best interest of this community now and in the future. And the best part is these professionals actually have the expertise to follow thru and complete the project safely and correctly with all the proper oversight in place. If the Foundation raises the money in the future, the Village can decide to accommodate it similar to the situation with the existing Veterans Memorial at the new police station.
So I am vetoing the HOF Agreement on the following grounds:
1) The foundation has not proven itself to have any integrity or qualifications to act as an agent of the Village and as a contractor to construct a Memorial on public land. The Foundation has grossly mismanaged the project to date which is indicative of future performance. And,
2) The current design of the memorial is cost-prohibitive, poorly conceived for the geo-technical conditions present on the property, not useable by the majority of the residents and will be extraordinarily expensive to maintain in both money and resources.
I am asking the Board to uphold my veto at the next meeting on January 25th. I encourage you to contact me if you have questions – I have done many hours of research, talked too many of the parties involved and will be glad to share with you the minutiae of the problems from the beginning with this project. I’ve only gone into a high-level description tonight. Feel free to talk to our Village Attorney, Bryan Winter, who can explain the process and outcomes. It will be a difficult three weeks. Mr. Morris will rally his supporters who will call us un-American. I would remind you that your first duty is to do the right thing for the residents of Gurnee and it is very American to serve as an elected official – it isn’t always popular or easy – but at the end of the day you have to do what is in the best interest of Gurnee now and in the future. If you uphold my veto on the 25th, then we can get down to the business of completing the Heroes of Freedom Memorial properly.