Rock Island County courthouse

Rock Island County Courthouse in Rock Island.

ROCK ISLAND — County officials have rejected a settlement offer from Landmarks Illinois to dismiss their lawsuit against the county and the Public Building Commission to prevent the demolition of the 124-year-old historic courthouse, 210 15th St.

The county litigation committee met Monday morning after Landmarks Illinois sent another letter July 31 asking for a response when their first letter was not acknowledged. 

Landmarks Illinois sent a three-page proposal to County Board Chairman Richard Brunk on April 24 offering to end litigation if the county agreed to make an effort to market the courthouse to potential developers.

Landmarks Illinois and five additional plaintiffs, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, filed suit Feb. 6. The case was dismissed March 19 by Peoria County 10th Circuit Judge Jodi Hoos. The case is pending an appeal by Landmarks Illinois after they paid a bond of $336,000. 

Brunk and Litigation Committee Chair Pat Moreno released a joint statement Wednesday. 

"The committee has determined that it is in the county's and the taxpayer's best interest to take no additional action, and thereby maintain our current course in defending the lawsuit," Brunk and Moreno wrote. 

Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald said Wednesday the group still was willing to discuss opportunities to reuse the courthouse as a way to "avoid spending taxpayer dollars on a costly demolition. 

"We are obviously disappointed the county board does not wish to pursue good-faith discussions on this with us and co-plaintiffs," McDonald said. "Still, we stand behind our lawsuit, and believe our case was strengthened in July when the state of Illinois filed a brief with the Appellate Court affirming that the Rock Island County courthouse is a historic resource and is subject to the state's Preservation Act."

Documents show the county has paid $66,406 in legal fees to Bozeman, Neighbor, Patton & Noe, LLP, the law firm hired to represent the county in the lawsuit. Invoice amounts were not available for July and August. 

Members of the litigation committee include Moreno, Jeff Deppe, Don Johnston, Mia Mayberry and Ron Oelke.

Johnston said there was no vote by the committee to advance the settlement offer to the full board for consideration. 

"There was no vote at all," Johnston said. "It's all tied up in litigation, and it's probably best to let it play out. It's a very touchy situation."

Brunk did not initially forward the April 24 letter to county board members or County Administrator Jim Snider.

Brunk released a statement Monday disputing the timeline and stated the full board was briefed during the May 21 board meeting by Acting State's Attorney Dora Villarreal.

The Dispatch-Argus published a story May 21, before the board meeting, in which Snider and several board members said they were not aware of the settlement offer.

"To be clear, the members of the county board have been aware of the settlement offer for quite some time, and have been advised by counsel of the legal consequences of acceptance," Brunk wrote in his statement. 

Brunk also addressed demands by some members of the public that the board reconsider demolition of the courthouse, which was approved by board members in July 2018.

"When the county board votes on an action item, it becomes a binding piece of legislation," Brunk wrote. "We cannot re-vote or break our contracts simply because there are new board members or because an individual changes their mind."