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The old Rock Island County Courthouse is seen with two magnolia trees in front of it, each marked with a red “X,” on April 22.

Landmarks Illinois has offered to settle its courthouse-related lawsuit against Rock Island County and its Public Building Commission, but the county has not responded to the offer.

In a three-page proposal sent April 24, Landmarks Illinois, a statewide nonprofit group dedicated to saving historic places, offered to dismiss the suit filed jointly with five other plaintiffs Feb. 6 in an effort to stop demolition of the historic courthouse.

The settlement offer states plaintiffs will end litigation if the county agrees to make an effort to market the courthouse to potential developers.

Frank Butterfield, director of the Landmarks Illinois Springfield office, said a response has not been received from the county or its attorneys.

Attorney Bill Rector of Bozeman, Neighbor, Patton & Noe, legal counsel for the county, could not be reached for comment. 

Officials unaware of offer

Several county board members said they were unaware of the settlement offer. 

"This should have gone to the full board, and we should at least have been apprised of this offer," Drue Mielke said. "I would like to know why not. Otherwise, you have a group of people making a decision for the full board. If any county board members knew about this, they would have said something.

"It should have gone through the litigation committee first," Mielke said. 

According to the county board schedule, the last time the litigation committee met was Feb. 11.

Don Johnston, who sits on the litigation committee, said the settlement offer never was brought up, and a committee meeting never was scheduled to discuss it.

"It was never sent to me, and the board chairman (Richard Brunk) never said anything," Johnston said. "It's convenient to say it's under the PBC, and yet the PBC says it belongs to the county. The courthouse building belongs to the county.

"We have a chief judge (Walter Braud) who has way overstepped his authority," Johnston said. "He is not on the county board, and he is not on the PBC, and both entities seem to listen to him." 

Board member Cecilia O'Brien said she also did not know about the offer. 

"I never received this notice or any information about it. It does not surprise me at all," O'Brien said. "Transparency to the board on what is happening seems very lacking and is frustrating for me and many others who have served on other boards, elected or as volunteers in other capacities.

"It is not supposed to be like this. I'm disappointed the media gets something before an elected board member," O'Brien said. "It could have been brought up at a committee meeting." 

Rock Island County Administrator Jim Snider also said he has not seen the settlement offer.

"I understand chairman (Richard) Brunk received a call about a possible settlement, but I did not receive a copy of the agreement," Snider said. 

Brunk said he was aware of the offer, but he declined to explain why it was not forwarded to board members or other officials.

"I would have to refer you to the state's attorney's office," Brunk said. "I really can't comment further. With the pending litigation and more than one party involved, it's complicated. For me to comment, it really wouldn't be appropriate." 

Acting State's Attorney Patricia Castro could not be reached for comment. 

'A win for everyone'

"We think our proposal presents a win for everyone," said Kaitlyn McAvoy, communications director for Landmarks Illinois. "It offers a chance to save the building and enrich the community, while also allowing the county to proceed with demolition if a good faith effort to preserve and rehabilitate the building ultimately fails."

According to the settlement offer, Landmarks Illinois is asking the county to sell the courthouse for $1 and "make available to the selected developer funds equal to the cost of undertaking the proposed demolition." 

An intergovernmental agreement between the county and the PBC established in July stated the county would transfer the courthouse deed to the PBC for the purpose of demolition. In return, the PBC agreed to pay up to $1.6 million for demolition and installation of green space.

The Landmarks Illinois offer states defendants and the county would work together to draft the RFP (request for proposal from developers) within 90 days of acceptance of the settlement.

Prospective developers would be required to outline the future use and planned rehabilitation of the building and also describe how it would be financed.

The proposed settlement demands that demolition activities cease, including demolition by neglect. The courthouse roof sustained multiple cuts and holes during asbestos abatement in January and February, leaving it open to the elements, further degrading the structure. 

The letter asks for temporary protection to be put in place to protect the structure from damage by roof leaks.

According to the offer, if no developers have submitted a satisfactory proposal within 90 days of the RFP deadline process, Landmarks Illinois agrees the county may move forward with demolition after required documents have been submitted to the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office. 

In addition to dismissing the lawsuit, plaintiffs agree to bear the cost of their legal fees and bond. The lawsuit was dismissed March 19, but the plaintiffs won an emergency stay while their appeal waits to be heard in the Third District Appellate Court. 

As part of the appeal process, Landmarks Illinois had to post bond of $336,000. 

No response from county

Tom Quinn, an attorney with Jenner and Block, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, said the settlement offer was sent to the attorneys for the defendants.

William Stengel, of Stengel Bailey & Robertson, is representing the Public Building Commission and Bozeman, Neighbor, Patton & Noe was hired by former Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee to represent the county. 

"We have not received any formal response from the lawyers for the county," Quinn said. "Our clients don't really want any more litigation. They want more dialogue with the county. In our view, nothing is happening. We are sitting here in litigation when we could be finding a use for the building."

"The goal of this proposal is to avoid waiting for the appellate court to make a decision," Butterfield said. "Everyone is at a standstill while the appeal continues; it avoids additional cost through litigation. The agreement applies a one-year time frame to request proposals. 

"We want to work together on a proposal that provides benefits to the community in terms of economic activity, tax revenue, and cultural enrichment and not spend precious time when the county is paying legal fees," Butterfield said. "We are being represented pro bono. We think our legal arguments are strong and will persuade the appellate court."

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