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Gurnee ratifies memorial agreement

The Heroes Freedom Memorial Gurnee near Old GrAvenue O'Plaine Road Gurnee honor those who have served 'War Terrorism.' | Ryan

The Heroes of Freedom Memorial in Gurnee near Old Grand Avenue and O'Plaine Road in Gurnee to honor those who have served in the "War on Terrorism." | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:52PM

GURNEE — In a move Trustee Stephen Park likened to a divorce, the Village Board affirmed it’s severed ties with the PFC Geoffrey Morris Memorial Foundation on Wednesday night by granting the organization any future use of the name “PFC Geoffrey Morris Memorial” in the terms a settlement agreement ratified earlier this month by the two parties.

“It’s very clear that this project has been enmeshed in village politics since the discussions with former Mayor (Don) Rudny, and the entire subject has become toxic — entirely too emotional and too personal,” said Park, who offered the only formal comments during a brief special session. “What may have started out as a cooperative effort has obviously collapsed, and while I can appreciate the motivation for creating the memorial, the truth is there can be blame assigned on both sides of this equation.

“At this time, this is no sense of trust or cooperation by either side, and the best resolution of this matter is a divorce, if you will. I just don’t see the parties able to work together.”

Wednesday’s action is intended to be the final chapter of more than three years of discord over construction of a tribute to Geoffrey Morris, a 2003 graduate of Warren High School who was killed in April 2004 while serving with the Marines in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, and six other servicemen with local ties who lost their lives to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also intended to be honored with a Gurnee memorial are Army Spc. Wesley Wells, Marine Cpl. Sean Maher, Marine Sgt. Edward Davis III, Army Capt. Shane Mahaffee, Army Sgt. Jason Denfrund and Army Spc. Joseph Dimock II,

Wednesday’s 4-0 vote came nine days after an initial mutual-release settlement was approved by the board, stating that the village’s insurance will reimburse the foundation and Trustee Kirk Morris, Geoffrey’s father, for out-of-pocket construction expenses and attorney fees that accrued while the two sides wrangled both in and out of the courtroom over the pace of installing a memorial on former village property at 4575 Old Grand Ave.

Park pointed out that the village’s insurance company has “offered a very generous settlement” — reportedly around $500,000 — to end the dispute of whether the foundation or the village should pursue completion of a memorial, and he added that “we are bound to follow the settlement offered by insurance unless we put the cost on the residents, and that would be unfair.”

“The only difference between this version of the settlement and the one earlier this month is that Mr. Morris and the foundation decided that they wanted the rights to the memorial name,” Park added. “My answer is if this will end it, great. Let’s get this done, and go our separate ways.”

Voting for the settlement with Park were trustees Cheryl Ross, Jeanne Balmes and Hank Schwarz. Morris abstained, and Trustee Greg Garner was out of town.

The dispute will resonate into the coming political season, with Morris filing petitions to run for mayor against incumbent Kristina Kovarik in the April 9 municipal elections. Also filing prior to Wednesday’s deadline were Jeanne Balmes, Thomas B. Hood, Terry Waddell-Moenter and Don Wilson for three open trustee seats, and Andrew Harris for clerk.

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