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City Council and League attorney discuss Jorgenson flood lawsuit

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council held a closed meeting Monday evening to discuss the lawsuit filed by Warren and Jan Lee Jorgenson who allege their home was flooded and damaged by what they say was the city's failure to use reasonable care in maintenance, repair and operation of the storm sewer system.

The council met for an hour with James Golembeck of Lake Elmo, who is representing the city through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

Golembeck was interviewed briefly by the Tribune after the closed meeting concluded but before the regular council meeting began.

Golembeck said he couldn't discuss the conversation during the closed session because of attorney-client privilege. Golembeck did say the closed meeting was informational and he said no action was taken.

"We anticipate that the lawsuit will proceed and at some point, hopefully, we can have some discussions with the Jorgensons to resolve this matter in the future,'' he said.

The summons accompanying the lawsuit stated that the case may be subject to alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution is a mediation process that is ordered by the court for virtually every civil case before the case goes to trial, according to City Attorney Rich Ronning.

The process involves the appointment of a neutral third party who is a court-certified mediator. The individual helps the parties reach a settlement.

The Jorgensons initiated the lawsuit because they say the city is responsible for the destruction of their home located at the corner of 10th Street and Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest. The flooding occurred after a heavy rainfall on Aug. 21, 2007. The water from the intersection backed up onto the couple's property, causing substantial damage to the house and loss of personal property, according to the lawsuit.

In other business Monday, the council took no action to advertise for bids to build a hiking and biking path along North Business 71 from an existing path near the former Kandiyohi Power Cooperative building to County Road 24. The path would run along the west side of Business 71, cross at Civic Center Drive, and continue east along Business 71 on land next to MinnWest Technology Campus (formerly the Willmar Regional Treatment Center).

The bids had been recommended by the Public Works/Safety Committee. But committee chairman Doug Reese asked that bid advertisement be delayed.

City Administrator Michael Schmit explained the State Historical Society wants the city to conduct an archaeological survey where the path would cross the MinnWest campus. The council agreed to let Schmit refer the path project back to the committee and to come up with a revised proposal.

In other business Monday:

? Mayor Les Heitke was asked by council member Bruce DeBlieck about the status of the storm water task force. The council voted in August to form a task force to find possible solutions to storm water flooding problems in the city.

Heitke said he has asked council members to submit names of two individuals from their respective wards who would comprise the committee. Heitke said he was awaiting their recommendations.

? The council approved the low $27,293 price quote from Clearwater Recreation of Waconia for new playground equipment at Rice Park.

? The council approved a Fire Department request to conduct training burns at two unoccupied single-family homes: one located at 3077 U.S. Highway 12 W., and one at 213 Lakeland Dr. S.E. The burns will take place between Oct. 7 and Feb. 1.

? The council was told by Schmit that he asked developers to come up with screening solutions that were acceptable to homeowners living next to the Westwind Estates affordable housing project in southwest Willmar. "As far as I know, we were able to accomplish that,'' Schmit said.

? The council voted to transfer $20,000 from the 2006 capital outlay budget to the 2008 capital outlay budget to pay the cost of moving a warning siren from a location near Fairway Drive to a location at 19th Avenue Northeast and First Street. Also, the city will install a new warning siren in the Eagles Landing area.