County, FCCF settle; lawsuit withdrawn

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 1, 2002

A challenge to the courthouse project by the Freeborn County Committee for Fairness disintegrated into midair Thursday when that anonymous opposition group surrendered to the county board by proposing the dismissal of the case.

Thomas Kraus, a lawyer for the FCCF, contacted attorney Jay Squires, who represents the county, on Wednesday to inform the county of his clients’ willingness to retract the lawsuit against the county and three commissioners, if the county renounced its attempt to recoup the damage inflicted by the litigation.

The stipulation of dismissal crafted by both attorneys was presented to the commissioners, who gathered at an emergency board meeting at noon Thursday. The board approved of it by a 4-1 vote.

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In addition to accepting the dismissal, the FCCF also abdicated future claims against the validity of the bond issue or the courthouse construction. The county agreed that its counterclaim asking restitution will dismissed, in exchange. Both sides settled on paying their own attorney fee.

The litigation blocked the county from issuing $26.3 million in bonds for the courthouse project, and has already pushed up the courthouse project cost by $1.3 million due to an interest rate rise and construction cost increment.

The discussion in the board meeting focused on whether the taxpayers should bear it or if the county should pursue the invisible FCCF to the corners of the world.

&uot;I do not think the taxpayers should be stuck with this type of bill. I think dismissing this, not knowing who they are, they can turn around and come back and file another lawsuit,&uot; said Commissioner Dan Springborg, who cast the only no vote. &uot;It’s a bunch of crap.&uot;

Administrator Ron Gabrielsen, who participated in the meeting over the phone, understood Springborg’s anger but disagreed.

&uot;The reality of life is the longer we delay this the more the cost is going to go up,&uot; he said. &uot;If we take your stand, unfortunately that costs the taxpayers more.&uot;

County Attorney Craig Nelson pointed out that even if the court would grant the motion filed by the county to require the FCCF to place a $5 million surety bond and disclose the members’ identities by next Monday, the FCCF would still have a 60-day window to appeal.

&uot;We will not be able to go forward with the building project in that period of time. We will be in this period of limbo, waiting for the appeal to fall,&uot; he said. &uot;We will continue to incur a greater expense toward the citizens of Freeborn County.&uot;

Commissioner Mark Behrends, who was named as a defendant along with Springborg and boad Chairman Dave Mullenbach, said, &uot;There is a big part of me that would like to have every one of these (FCCF) people named in public, and have them pay for every cent of the cost incurred by the taxpayers of Freeborn County.&uot;

&uot;The fact that they named Commissioner Mullenbach, Springborg and myself in this lawsuit turns my stomach. I would have liked to sue them personally for the shadow they have cast over my reputation and character,&uot; he said. &uot;But, I will take my personal feelings out of the picture and vote to put this ridiculous lawsuit behind us so we can move on.&uot;

Mullenbach, who has been at the forefront of attacks by the FCCF on account of alleged violation of the Open Meeting Law, said, &uot;I think we have to keep the cost down as much as we can at this point in time by accepting the stipulation. Personally? I don’t want to get into that. I think, as a chair of the board, I need to be responsible for the taxpayers.&uot;