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Genoa lawsuit against School District 424 sparks debate

Published: Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

GENOA – Genoa-Kingston School District 424 and city of Genoa officials have agreed to disagree with a lawsuit filed against the school district last week.

District 424 officials issued a statement Friday expressing disappointment over the lawsuit filed by the city of Genoa over a public works dispute involving a detention pond.

The lawsuit, which was filed Jan. 13 with the DeKalb County Circuit Court, claims the school district failed to finish work on a storm water detention project that was agreed upon by both parties and threatened city workers with criminal trespassing charges if they tried to work on an easement the city said is within its jurisdiction.

“We were surprised and disappointed to hear from a news reporter that the city of Genoa had chosen to file a lawsuit rather than sit down and work out the issues they have with the school district’s attempt to complete the storm water detention project,” the district’s statement read.

“Unfortunately, the legal action taken by the city was unwarranted and unnecessary and will certainly cost the taxpayers in Genoa.”

Genoa Mayor Todd Walker said he, too, was disappointed that the situation boiled down to a lawsuit, but he said the city felt it was necessary after the school district threatened criminal action if city employees entered city property without prior written approval.

In a Dec. 6 letter to the city, the district told the city to “cease and desist from performing any further investigation or work on the drainage system” or else employees could be “prosecuted under the relevant provisions of the Illinois Criminal Code.”

“What more can you do?” Walker said about the lawsuit. “They forced us on our one count.”

The lawsuit alleges that the school board did not complete the construction of the facility as required, because the size of the pond that was constructed was smaller in size and “has been constructed in a substantially different manner than as required” by the plans.

The first count of the lawsuit asks for a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining the school board from preventing or seeking to prevent the city from exercising its right to access school district property.

The second count deals with an intergovernmental agreement from June, 21, 2011, between the city and school board. It states that the district would construct a detention pond along Route 23 at Genoa Elementary School and continue to provide the easement so the city could provide emergency relief along the west side of the school district’s property, according to court documents.

The detention pond is located on the corner of Hill Street and Sycamore Road, where Genoa Elementary School is located.

District 424 Superintendent Joe Burgess said the district was awaiting correspondence from the city, but didn’t hear anything until the district learned about the lawsuit.

“The opportunity to sit down and work it out is better than public money being spent on a lawsuit,” Burgess said Friday. “We’re in the business of educating students, and that’s our first and foremost responsibility.”

However, the city said it reached out to the district to fix the problem and offered assistance before both parties entered a written agreement that detailed the process. Walker said regardless of the lawsuit, the city is committed to working with the school district.

“We’ve had a wonderful relationship prior to this and we need to continue that,” Walker said.

As the lawsuit between two taxing bodies moves through the judicial system, it pulls twice at Genoa taxpayers’ purse strings.

“There are going to be legal fees on both sides for taxpayers,” Genoa resident Gene Bradford said.

Ken Shipley of Genoa called the lawsuit a waste of taxpayer money and wasn’t sure why the detention area is an issue now that “the grass is grown and the fence is up.”

“I would think they’d find a better way than a lawsuit,” Shipley said. “For one to sue the other is a waste of a lot of taxpayer money.”

Pat Margolies of Genoa agreed that there are better ways to spend her property taxes.

“I’d rather my taxpayer money go to something more beneficial,” she said. “I just think they could put their efforts into something else.”

Walker said he hoped the matter could be settled outside of the courtroom, and said taxpayers have a right to be upset.

“We’re both going to spend taxpayer money to litigate this and that’s a shame,” Walker said. “At the end of the day, the courts are going to rule and everyone loses.”

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