Courthouse Fight Escalates

Feb 14, 2019

Rock Island County is apparently at a crossroads. A contractor is on the verge of demolishing the courthouse as soon as asbestos has been removed.

But historic preservation groups have filed a lawsuit claiming the Rock Island County Board and its Public Building Commission are violating state law.

Michelle O'Neill reports.


Richard "Quijas" Brunk, Chair of the Rock Island County Board
Credit submitted / Richard Brunk Facebook

Richard Brunk, Chair of the Rock Island County Board, says privatization and redevelopment of the courthouse were never an option.

One reason is to consolidate services to save money, and the other is safety. Brunk and Chief Judge Walter Braud say employees and visitors to the new justice center annex will be in danger from snipers and chunks of stone falling off the courthouse.

In their lawsuit, six plaintiffs say the Rock Island County Board and Public Building Commission are not following state law and should be held accountable.

Diann Moore, from the Moline Historic Preservation Society, says the commission plans to pay for demolition of the courthouse with money from bonds sold to build the new annex, which does not comply with the terms of the bond sale.

Walter Braud, Chief Judge of the Illinois 14th Circuit Court
Credit Michelle O'Neill / WVIK News

Judge Braud has filed an order to demolish the courthouse immediately, despite the lack of a permits from the Illinois EPA and the DNR's State Historic Preservation Office.

He says executive branch agencies do not have authority over the state's courts.

Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois
Credit submitted / Landmarks Illinois

Bonnie McDonald, the head of Landmarks Illinois, another plaintiff, says the judge's order does not negate the requirements of state law. And she says the public has a right to due process under the State Historic Resources Preservation Act.

McDonald also says the Public Building Commission failed to ask the Rock Island City Council, as the county seat, to go along with the demolition plan.

On its own, the Rock Island City Council decided to ask the county board and Public Building Commission to work on privatizing and redeveloping the courthouse.

Earlier this month, Mayor Mike Thoms expressed concern that county officials will continue to ignore voters' wishes. Six years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to expand the powers of the commission to build more than a jail.

Despite the lawsuit, Brunk says the board and commission have legally-binding contracts, and "backstepping" is not an option.

The plaintiffs have also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent demolition.

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