Former police chief sues Rock Valley College

Retired Rockford Police Chief William Fitzpatrick and his wife, Elizabeth, filed a lawsuit July 17 against Rock Valley College (RVC) and other defendants. The lawsuit asks for more than $100,000 in damages in connection with an Aug. 22, 2002 ,flood of the Fitzpatricks’ condominium basement. Fitzpatrick lives immediately north of RVC’s campus.

The Fitzpatricks’ complaint against RVC, Rockford Blacktop Construction Co., Bradley and Bradley Architects and Engineers, PC, and Cooling Landscape Contractors, LLC, alleges their basement windows “exploded” due to water pressure on the exterior side of the basement windows. After the windows broke, the basement filled with “approximately five feet of water,” which Mr. Fitzpatrick said destroyed irreplaceable family mementos, police memorabilia and other property.

According to Mr. Fitzpatrick and Trainer Hills West Condo Association Manager/Treasurer Phil Stephenson, RVC was “not a good neighbor” handling issues related to 5.79 inches of rain that fell the night of Aug. 21 and 22 last year. Mr. Fitzpatrick is a member of Stephenson’s condo association.

During the spring and summer of last year, RVC re-graded and altered the terrain of the north end of campus for new athletic fields. The athletic field

project also involved design and installation of berms, water drainage and water retention systems. Mr. Fitzpatrick alleged the installed drainage and pipe systems were obstructed by concrete and other construction and landscaping material—primarily straw, which was used as ground cover to keep top soil in place.

The complaint also alleges the defendants “failed to design, construct, manage or control the project with an adequate berm or water retention system in a manner that did not cause the diversion of water run-off to the plaintiff’s property.”

The lawsuit also alleges during the 13 years preceding the athletic field construction, the Fitzpatricks “never sustained any flooding or water run-off from RVC’s adjacent property.” Fitzpatrick’s and Stephenson’s assertion that RVC was “not a good neighbor” was echoed by members of the Spring Lake Estates subdivision at the April 22 RVC Board of Trustees meeting. Spring Lake Estates residents live west of RVC.

The groups’ primary complaint was a lack of communication between RVC administrators and affected homeowners in resolving the alleged rain/construction-related property damage complaints. “The worst part is the lack of communication [between RVC and the affected homeowners],” Stephenson said during an April 22 interview.

Mr. Fitzpatrick agreed with Stephenson’s assertion and added: “I’ve initiated all contact to resolve this matter without resorting to litigation. …They’ve [RVC] handled this matter terribly,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said July 3.

Like the Fitzpatricks and some of the Trainer Hills condo owners, Spring Lake Estates residents also suffered rain-related damages—reportedly silt, sediment and straw accumulation in yards. When homeowners from both areas did not receive adequate, if any, feedback for months from RVC President Roland Chapdelaine’s administration, the groups took their concerns to the RVC board.

RVC Board Chairman and Winnebago County Board member Chris Johnson (R-4) was given a list of questions July 17 concerning the Fitzpatricks’ complaint but did not respond. However, Johnson said June 11 the college tried to resolve the matter with the condo association by offering a cash settlement.

Stephenson said the college offered the association $3,114 in June that has since been distributed to condo association members that also suffered rain/construction-related damage. However, the association refused to sign a document that would have released the college from further liability. Signing the document may have affected Fitzpatrick’s complaint against the college.

In a May 27 letter from RVC Operations Vice President Don Williams to the Association, Williams wrote that the matter with Mr. Fitzpatrick will be “handled directly” rather than through the condo association. Mr. Fitzpatrick never heard from the college, which is another reason why he was forced to file the lawsuit. The Fitzpatricks’ lawsuit is yet another lawsuit filed against the college during Chapdelaine’s tenure at RVC.

Robert Branda, faculty member at RVC, filed a $2.75 million lawsuit last September against RVC alleging personel issues and defamation.

The Jan. 29, 2003, issue of The Rock River Times reads, “Data supplied by RVC Board Attorney Charles Kostantacos show the college’s legal expenses have gone from an inflation-adjusted $52,949 in 1998 to $153,478 (not including November and December) in 2002.”

Kostantacos supplied the data after The Rock River Times submitted a Dec. 16, 2002, Freedom of Information Act request. In a Feb. 7, 2003, letter,

Kostantacos said RVC’s attorney fees for November 2002 were $18,737. Kostantacos also said, “The figures for December 2002 will be forthcoming.” The Rock River Times has yet to receive the December information. Kostantacos said he would submit the information on Aug. 13. Regardless of the missing information, as of last November, Chapdelaine’s administration has more than tripled the college’s one-year legal expenses.

Again, the college’s legal expenses have gone from an inflation-adjusted $52,949 in 1998 to $172,215 (not including December) in 2002. Copies of Williams’ May 27 letter to the condo association were sent directly to Chapdelaine and Kostantacos. In the letter, Williams claimed rain that fell last Aug. 22 was a “100-year flood.”

According to the Lower Colorado River Authority, the term “100-year flood” has nothing to do with how often a flood occurs, but its magnitude. The phrase really means a flood has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.

Climatological data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates 5.79 inches of rain fell in Rockford between Aug. 21 and 22 of last year—the night the Fitzpatricks were flooded. However, 6.16 inches of rain fell between June 3 and 4, less than three months earlier.

Yet, the Fitzpatricks allege in the lawsuit they never suffered any flooding the previous 13 years they occupied the condominium, until RVC began construction of the athletic fields. Fitzpatrick and Stephenson said removal of a berm during construction played an integral role in the flood last August.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site addresses possible impacts of global warming on the frequency and magnitude of floods. The EPA’s Web site reads: “global climate change could change the frequency and severity of inland flooding, particularly along rivers. …General circulation models suggest that some regions of the United States may have more rainfall during the wet season, which would increase river and lake levels. Moreover, increased flooding could occur even in areas that do not become wetter.”…Warm areas generally have a more intense hydrologic cycle and thus more rain in a severe storm; Many areas may receive more intense rainfall. …It is also possible that these processes will become more benign as climate changes, at least in some areas,” the Web site reads.

The flood-affected homeowners were also unhappy with how RVC’s insurance company, Indiana Insurance, handled their complaints. The homeowners alleged they were ignored for months by the college and the insurance company. The Rock River Times asked Jane Barnett, vice president of corporate communications of Indiana Insurance, to comment and identify the local agent. Barnett said Indiana Insurance cannot comment about claims or pending lawsuits and refused to identify the local agent for RVC, citing agent/client confidentiality. As of June 2003, Indiana Insurance had 69 Illinois agents, including six in Rockford. A list of Indiana Insurance’s Illinois agents is available at:

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