Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Hummel lawsuit over, but questions still linger

by Lisa Seiser

September 22, 2011

Seiser
The city's insurance company has paid $2.1 million to Geneva Ridge Joint Venture to settle claims the developer made against the city and its officials.

But the exchange of money and four-page release of claims agreement don't come close to answering the real questions and concerns that remain.

The agreement states the $2.1 million payment "is not to be construed as an admission of fault or liability on the part of the released parties in any respect whatsoever. To the contrary, it is understood that the released parties expressly deny such fault or liability ..."

That reads like attorney jargon and I'm not buying it. If no city officials and representatives did anything wrong, why did the city agree to settle the dispute? Why would the insurance company agree to pay a good-sized sum of $2.1 million if there wasn't a little something there?

One must remember computer hard drives were destroyed, one with a sledgehammer. E-mails and other documents were erased or not provided through open records requests. There was a questionable referendum and aldermen saying they would follow the will of the people who voted in it. Back door meetings occurred between some aldermen and there were possible conspiracies with the Friends of Geneva Lake and the Vote No Mirbeau-Hummel groups. Those are just a few of the issues that have come to light over the last two years in federal court documents. How would all that have looked if this matter went to a jury?

Looking at the other side of this, I also don't believe Geneva Ridge's case was as solid as attorneys for the developer may have contended in their court documents. It would have been difficult to prove some of their claims.

If the case went to a trial and if Geneva Ridge won, in this economy, how could the damages really be determined and would those damages be anything close to the $123 million Geneva Ridge was asking for? Probably not.

The other question still revolves around the timing of the settlement and the Master Plan amendment change approved by the City Council on Aug. 30. City officials and the city attorney say there was no settlement at the time of the vote on the amendment change, but there certainly was an understanding that the amendment would be voted on prior to Aug. 31.

That answers the question about why the city hurried the vote by holding two special meetings on consecutive days, Aug. 29 and 30, and went through the first reading and then approved the change the second night. However, it is unknown how much the thought of a possible settlement with the developers impacted the amendment vote. It also is unknown if Geneva Ridge would have settled the case if the vote on the amendment went the other way.

While these are lingering questions, there are some conclusions that can be made from this situation.

In the end, if the vote to amend the Master Plan helped make this settlement possible, the city officials who voted in favor of the change did the right thing. The insurance company picked up the tab for all of the lawsuit and there appears to be no additional cost to the taxpayers caused by this lengthy litigation.

There was another option. The city could have kept fighting the case and possibly gone to trial. If the city would have won, financially, nothing would be different than right now for the taxpayers. However, if the city lost its case and Geneva Ridge was awarded more than $5 million, taxpayers would have had to cover the difference.

It seems to me the safer route was taken here, probably as an effort to protect the taxpayers and the city as a whole from going through many more months of litigation and a possible trial. I still believe there were improper dealings and communication involving some former aldermen who were willing to do anything to stop Geneva Ridge from developing its property.

But for now, the mayor is probably right. It's time to move on and look forward.

But, as someone who has watched this from day one, I can't help wonder what happened during those settlement talks and during recent closed session meetings. For now it's over and we may just have to wait until later for the answers to these questions. My best guess is we may never find out.

Seiser is the editor of

the Regional News.