A crew from Valley Construction removes a sycamore tree from the northwest corner of the historic Rock Island County Courthouse property for safety reasons Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Rock Island.

The roof of the historic Rock Island County courthouse is still open to the elements, including months of rain since January.

Despite promises to cover numerous holes cut in the courthouse roof during asbestos abatement in early 2019, the county and the Public Building Commission decided otherwise. 

Rock Island County Administrator Jim Snider said on Thursday there was a "consensus" between the county and Public Building Commission (PBC) not to cover the holes, including with a simple tarp. 

"There was no directive from the courts for that extent," Snider said. "The water that had come into the courthouse from the asbestos work caused considerable damage. It's been exposed to water since that time. It was just deemed (unnecessary) by the county and PBC. Even though demolition is on hold, the demolition contract is still in place."

A temporary restraining order is in effect, preventing demolition of the courthouse until an appeal filed by six plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the county and PBC is heard in the Third District Appellate Court. 

Public Building commissioners said at their April 11 meeting that steps would be taken to protect the building pending the outcome of a lawsuit to stop demolition of the 124-year-old courthouse, 210 15th St.

During that meeting, PBC Chairman Brent Ganahl said he would direct Gilbane Building Co. Project Manager Phil Thiele to cover the holes.

Gilbane is the contractor that oversaw construction of the Justice Center Annex and the pending demolition of the courthouse. 

"I just spoke with my construction manager (Thiele) and something should happen soon," Ganahl said April 11. "I'll follow up with (Thiele) and clarify that it gets done quickly."

"We've told the roofer to begin patching the roof, but not with a tarp," Thiele told the Dispatch-Argus April 23.

Thiele said the PBC received a bid from Sterling Roofing for $6,900 to patch the holes.

"There was no order to repair the roof," Snider said Thursday. "From the public safety perspective, Sheriff (Gerry) Bustos and the PBC worked together to secure the first floor as far as boarding it up. That's the extent of how we are moving forward." 

Preservationists confront PBC

PBC members were confronted by residents during their meeting Thursday, who demanded to know why the courthouse can't be sold to a private investor and put on the tax rolls. 

Local developer Joe Lemon, Jr., who owns Rock Island’s Abbey Station and oversaw renovation of Bettendorf's Abbey Addiction Treatment Center, reminded commissioners of his evaluation for reuse and offer to buy the courthouse last fall. 

Lemon chastised commissioners for wasting months of time when he could have formed a blue-ribbon task force to come up with other uses for the courthouse.

"I came to you in November and told you demolition of the courthouse was improper and there were alternative uses for it without burdening the taxpayers," Lemon said. "I suggested putting together a blue-ribbon task force with a limited time period of six months, after which time if we could not find a purpose for the building, we would remove our objection to its demolition. We've wasted all this time. 

"I warned you at that time you would be sued — and the county has been sued over this issue," Lemon said. "I would like to hear what the expected budget for that lawsuit is going to be."

PBC Attorney Bill Stengel said the PBC has a policy with Axa Insurance Company to cover litigation costs beyond the $2,500 deductible. 

Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee hired Bozeman, Neighbor, Patton & Noe, LLP to represent the county. It is unknown what the legal costs to the county will be after the suit is settled. 

Lemon, who owns multiple properties in Rock Island County, told commissioners he was also there at the county office building on Thursday to pay $181,000 in property taxes.

"I will not be making any more deals to invest in this county," Lemon said. 

Lemon said property tax revenue generated from his properties is going toward funding the PBC and "other misuses of public funds.

"You are betraying the public trust," Lemon said. "I'm told the courthouse is being allowed to degrade further, which violates the terms of the lawsuit you're involved in right now."

"We've listened to you, we've listened to public opinion, we've always had the newspaper articles and heard the objections that have been raised," Commissioner Patrick Wendt said. "We've listened to them, we've acted on them, and we decided what our course is going to be. That doesn't mean we weren't paying attention. All that means is that we disagree with you."

"This is also affecting the county's bond rating and will affect ... "

Wendt interjected, "Mr. Chairman, his three minutes is up."

Commissioner Tom McCune asked Lemon if he had presented his offer to county board members. 

"Yes, I've met with Jim Snider and he said he presented my material to the board," Lemon said. "The board will not give us an audience, either. There is a willful combination of ignorance and anger about this issue."

"Excuse me, are you calling us ignorant?" Wendt said. "Is that what your stance is? We're too dumb to understand what's going on? We've listened to you, we've made up our mind. This is direction we're going in."

Rock Island resident Bridget Ehrmann said she also was disappointed to hear the holes in the courthouse roof have not been covered. 

"And all citizens are concerned about how much money is going into legal fees instead of just selling the building," Ehrmann said. "Taxpayers are having to pay for the county to litigate. I'm really flabbergasted the county is choosing to spend my money to litigate instead of just selling the building to Joe (Lemon) or someone else."

Ganahl said the PBC does not own the building and therefore, selling it would not be their decision. 

Lemon also accused the PBC of not being transparent and said the group makes it difficult for residents to find out when and where the meetings are held. 

"The meeting time and location should be posted on your website," Lemon said. "You are conveying to the public that this is not a transparent board."

The PBC does not currently have a website. 

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