Park District files motion to dismiss lawsuit regarding Nelson Knitting property
Online Staff Report
At the March 27 board meeting, the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners agreed to file a motion to dismiss the complaint of John R. Cook III filed March 11 involving the Nelson Knitting property along South Main Street adjacent to Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum.
The lawsuit alleges that Cook and former Executive Director Webbs Norman made a deal in 1999 under which Cook would buy the Nelson Knitting property, and that Norman would cause the Park District to buy the property from Cook when it had the funds available to do so.
According to state statutes governing the Rockford Park District, that type of agreement is illegal, void and unenforceable. The Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners has not adopted an ordinance, resolution nor taken any other official action to approve Cook’s alleged agreement, or permit Norman to enter into such an agreement.
According to the motion to dismiss, “Former Executive Director Norman never had the power to make such a deal, and the Rockford Park District itself never agreed to it.”
According to the Park District, the suit is Cook’s attempt to force the district to purchase the property from him and hold the taxpayers of the Rockford Park District responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars arising from his purchase.
Rockford Park District ordinances in effect at that time prohibited Norman from binding the Park District to expenditures in excess of $25,000. In addition to the ceiling on approving expenditures in excess of $25,000, there are further restrictions on an executive director’s authority to acquire, dispose, trade or encumber real property that were in effect in 1999, and continue to be in effect.
Cook makes the claim that the Rockford Park District is now bound to purchase the Nelson Knitting property from him under an oral agreement allegedly struck in 1999, even though, according to the Park District:
1. Cook admits he has no written contract;
2. Cook cannot identify the price or the manner and timing in which the Park District is obligated to perform;
3. The Park District has never adopted an ordinance or resolution authorizing the alleged agreement, nor has it appropriated funds for the alleged agreement; and
4. Cook waited almost 13 years before filing his lawsuit.
The Rockford Park District did enter into an agreement with Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum to assist with the acquisition and administration of a $400,000 Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Public Museum Capital Grant Program to acquire the Nelson Knitting property, fund environmental clean-up and fund property improvements.
The Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum, with the support of the Park District Board, offered $185,000 for the Nelson Knitting property, which was based on the property’s fair market value certified by the IDNR. John R. Cook, the owner, declined the offer and filed the complaint in Winnebago County Circuit Court.
Rockford Park District Executive Director Tim Dimke said: “The Rockford Park District continues to support the acquisition by the museum of the Nelson Knitting property as it is a key component of the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum master plan. We have full confidence the Park District can acquire the property under fair and equitable terms, which will be acceptable to our stakeholders.”
The district’s lawyers are requesting the court case to be dismissed.
Posted April 5, 2012
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