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Willmar City Council settles with couple whose home was lost in flood in '07

WILLMAR -- The lawsuit filed by Warren and Jan Lee Jorgenson of Willmar against the city of Willmar over damage to the couple's house in a 2007 flood has been settled.

The council voted unanimously Monday night to settle the lawsuit with a total payment of $115,000 to the Jorgensons.

In return, the Jorgensons will convey to the city the title to their property at the corner of 10th Street and Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest. The flooding rendered the house unsuitable for habitation.

The council recessed shortly after 9 p.m. and held a closed meeting for about 35 minutes with City Attorney Rich Ronning to discuss the terms of the settlement.

The council reconvened the meeting at about 9:40 p.m. to officially approve the settlement in which the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust will pay $60,000 and the city will pay $55,000. Also, the title of the property will be conveyed free and clear of the mortgage on the property and the mortgage will be paid out of the settlement proceeds, according to Ronning.

The Jorgensons had alleged their home at 1000 Kandiyohi Ave. S. W. was flooded and damaged Aug. 21, 2007, by what they said was the city's failure to use reasonable care in maintenance, repair and operation of the storm sewer system. They had asked for approximately $400,000 in damages, said Ronning.

The settlement was the result of a mediation session held on Dec. 8 between the city and the Jorgensons. William Hull of Minneapolis was appointed to mediate a possible settlement.

Minnesota court rules require either mediation or arbitration in an attempt to settle a lawsuit before it goes to trial, "and that settlement is the result of that mediation,'' Ronning said.

City Administrator Michael Schmit and Ronning attended the session, along with attorney Jim Golembeck of Lake Elmo, who represented the city through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

In an interview, Ronning said the Jorgensons are releasing the city from any and all claims.

"I think probably both sides are glad to be done with it,'' he said.

Jorgenson, reached Monday night, declined to comment at this time.

In other business, the council appointed members to the Storm Water Task Force. They are Bruce Johns, Marv Gieseke, Mike Haase, Laura Becker, Joe Ridler, Karen Thibault, Paul Danielson, Terry Brunson, Rolf Standfuss, Vera Novak, Douglas Hanson and David Schmidt.

The council voted in August to establish the task force to find solutions to storm water flooding problems that occur during periods of heavy rain. Council members Monday night urged the task force look at problems around the entire city, and that the task force issue an interim report by the end of April and a final report by the end of June.

Council member Steve Gardner had asked the council to appoint the task force. He got the idea from resident Dave Becker, who told the council he would volunteer to serve on a citizens' group to help the city devise a comprehensive plan to solve recurrent flooding problems.

Becker's house is among homes near 10th Street and Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest that have been flooded by backed-up storm water.

Also, the council approved members of the Charter Commission. They are Bob Bonawitz, Shawn Mueske, Shelly Cash, John Sullivan, Ron Andreen, John Tradup, Audrey Nelsen, Eilene Huberty and Mike Nitchals.

The council approved a resolution in October calling for the Charter Commission to convene. The council set the number of members at 9. Willmar's charter says the commission is to consist of not less than 7 to not more than 15 members.

The charter requires the city attorney to submit the names to the district court and the court will make the appointments final.

Council members have said some issues have surfaced that would require Charter Commission consideration, such as extending term limits and providing compensation for members of the Rice Hospital Board and the Municipal Utilities Commission.