Originally Posted Online: March 20, 2013, 6:46 pm
Last Updated: March 31, 2013, 7:18 pm
Judges to sue county if building vote fails
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By Eric Timmons, email@example.com
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Photo: Todd Mizener|
The 116-year-old Rock Island County Courthouse, shown in this file photo, is in bad shape. An April 9 referendum seeks to expand the powers of the county's building commission to let it issue bonds to repair or replace the courthouse. On Wednesday, Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee announced that Fourteenth Judicial Circuit judges have already laid the groundwork to sue the county if the referendum fails.
Judges will sue Rock Island County to build a new courthouse if the April 9 referendum fails, according to Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee.
The referendum will ask the public if they support expanding the power of the county's public building commission, which would allow the commission to finance a new courthouse.
But the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit judges who eagerly want a new courthouse have already laid the groundwork to sue the county after the referendum if it fails.
In December, Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor served Mr. McGehee with an intent to sue the county to build a new courthouse.At a meeting Wednesday, Mr. McGehee said he believed the judges would carry out the threat.
The county board would be mandated to introduce a special tax to pay for a new courthouse if the lawsuit was successful, Mr. McGehee said.
The Illinois Supreme Court requires the county to provide a courthouse that meets certain standards. The county's courthouse fails to meet many of the requirements and is in generally bad shape, according to the judges and other county officials.
Mr. McGehee spoke at Wednesday's meeting of the ad hoc committee established by Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek to look at the future of the courthouse and other county buildings.
The committee will present its findings and make a recommendation to the county board.
Mr. McGehee also said that, if a lawsuit is successfully brought against the county, the law would require the debt created to build a new courthouse to be paid off in 10 years.If the county borrowed money through the public building commission, the debt could be retired over a longer period, which would reduce the cost of the project.
Real estate appraiser Pat Wendt, one of the members of the ad hoc committee, said the judges would likely win if they sue the county.
"When a judge takes something before a judge, the judge wins," he said.
Mr. McGehee said an outside judge would be brought in to hear the lawsuit if the judges sue the county.
"It hasn't been done, so there's not a lot of precedent," he said.
Meanwhile, local developers, unions and judges are putting money behind a campaign supporting the April 9 referendum to expand the power of the public building commission.
At present, the commission is limited to jail projects only. A "yes" vote would allow the commission to issue bonds for any county building project if directed to do so by the county board.
Jeffrey Jacobs, an attorney with local firm Bozeman, Neighbour, Patton & Noe, last month founded the Progress Rock Island political action committee, which is funding a direct mail campaign in favor of a "yes" vote.
The PAC has raised $20,000 since Feb. 9, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.Donors include LRC Developers, the development company that has offered a site at the Quad Cities Industrial Center for a new county courthouse and administration building.
Estes Construction, which has performed studies for the county on the courthouse question, also has contributed to the PAC.The fundraising committee of state Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, also has made a donation, as have a number of local judges, including Chief Judge O'Connor.
Other donors include the Tri-City Building Trades Council, the Associated General Contractors of the Quad Cities and Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 25.