By SAMANTHA PIDDE
The Mount Carroll City Council held a special meeting last week to begin seriously discussing plans for the city's portion of the Davis Trust, currently valued at just over $20 million.
When William J. Davis died April 26, 1967, his will established a trust with several organizations listed as beneficiaries. The trust was made in such a way that three of his relatives — first cousins Clarence Davis, Herbert Davis and Helen Grace Davis Marth — each received annual $2,000 payments while designated beneficiaries would not receive funds until all three of the individuals had died. The last cousin, Herbert Davis, died last fall at the age of 98.
Six beneficiaries are listed in the trust documents, including: City of Mount Carroll, 50 percent; Shimer College in Mount Carroll, 30 percent; Illinois Masonic Home in Sullivan, 7 percent; Illinois Masonic Children's Home in LaGrange, 6 percent; Mount Carroll Fire Protection District, 5 percent; Mount Carroll Masonic Cyrus Lodge #118, 2 percent.
Regarding the City of Mount Carroll's portion of the trust, the documents specify:
"Fifty percent (50%) thereof shall be paid to the City of Mt. Carroll, Illinois, to be used by said City in the erection and equipping of a Community Building for the use and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the City of Mt. Carroll, Illinois, said building to be called the William Davis Community Building, and the plans and specification for said building and its equipment are to be first approved by the person acting as the Trustee at the time of the termination of this Trust; and any funds remaining after the erection and equipping of said building are to be invested by the said City of Mt. Carroll, Illinois, and the income from such investment used for the maintenance and up-keep of such building."
One of the primary discussion points for the city has been if all of the listed beneficiaries are still eligible for the funds. There is a possibility that the two Illinois Masonic homes may no longer be in operation.
However, the key issue is what will happen to the 30 percent set aside for "Shimer College, a non-profit educational corporation, having its campus and principal buildings in the City of Mt. Carroll, Illinois."
While Shimer College is no longer operating on the Mount Carroll campus, North Central College in Naperville now has the Shimer College Great Books program and name. City Attorney Ron Coplan has said previously that he is uncertain if this is enough for the college to qualify for the Davis Trust funds, but expected the college to try for them.
During last week's special meeting held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, Coplan said Davis Trust attorney Edward Mitchell filed a petition with the court Jan. 21 on the behalf of the three trustees. Coplan said the petition calls to the attention of the court that there are questions about the eligibility of some of the beneficiaries, but takes no position on the matter.
"It's essentially saying this is the situation judge,” said Coplan. “We're not taking a position. You need to give us some instruction.”
Coplan said each entity will need to prove to the court that is a valid representative of the listed beneficiaries, adding that Mitchell has been in contact with the Attorney General's office in Springfield.
Coplan also discussed similar cases he knows about, including one where a children's home merged with a larger entity and changed locations. In that case, the entity did receive the funds. However Coplan said this is quite different from the matter with Shimer, because this children's home simply merged with another, but continued to serve the same basic function.
"Shimer did not merge," said Coplan. "They are essentially incorporating the Great Books Program into North Central."
Ald. Mike Risko asked just how much of a difference a change in Shimer's "address" makes to the courts. Coplan said the court will try to follow what was Davis's intent, noting that in 1963 when the trust was prepared that Davis would have no anticipation that the college would close. Coplan said he would contend that Shimer leaving Mount Carroll is a significant factor.
"How much weight that would carry is arguable," Coplan said.
However, he would point out, based on the other Mount Carroll organizations listed as beneficiaries, that Davis's intent was to benefit the City of Mount Carroll and the organizations within.
While the city plans to stay informed on this issue, Mayor Carl Bates said the focus of last Thursday's meeting should be the $10.5 million the city knows it will receive and how to best use it. He said he wanted to have an "open" public discussion and hear the council's opinion and start planning for the money and community center.
"The reality is this is a great gift for our community," Bates said. "We should welcome it and we should embrace it. But we should plan."
The mayor said he would hate to have it be a year from now, with the city still unsure of how it is going to utilize the money.
Bates posed several questions and ideas related to the use of the money. One question was whether or not, once the trustees approved a project, the city could keep the remaining funds in the current account to keep the higher interest. Coplan said the city certainly could approach the trustees about the possibility of an agreement with them as the project moves forward.
Another question Bates posed was if the entire $10 million had to be used on one building (which trust documents seem to indicate). He said that in 1986, the city's portion was $500,000 to build the community center, which he said is a lot different than spending $10 million on one building. Ald. Doug Bergren pointed out all $10 million would not be spent on the construction of a building, as the city also must set aside funds for maintenance and upkeep.
Ald. Risko asked Bates what he wanted to spend the rest of the money on, such as roads. Bates answered no, at first saying he would not even dignify the question with a response. However, he pointed out that "once it's (the money) ours, it doesn't matter."
Coplan suggested that Bates and the council are trying to cut the issue too black and white, noting there is an opportunity for some creative thinking. He agreed that "no one wants a Taj Mahal" built in Mount Carroll with the $10 million.
Coplan said his approach would be that after the city has its community center project, the council looks at what money is left (beside whatever needs to be set aside to support the center) and go to court, where the judge will make the final decision. He said at that point, they could explain that this amount was not used for the required purpose and petition the court for approval to use the money for a different but "connected" purpose.
Coplan made it clear this "connected" purpose could not be for roads, the new sewage treatment plant or any other infrastructure projects. Bates said he had been thinking more of the possibility of a walking trail, baseball field or pool project, reiterating that he never meant to use it for roads.
"I never would have said it, never thought it. (It) never even crossed my mind," Bates said.
The mayor discussed using work done by a Mount Carroll Community Building Advisory Committee, which ended in 2012, as a jumping off point. He said this group put in a great deal of work looking at possible uses and locations for a community center.
A four-page final report discusses the Davis Trust and what amenities were appropriate at that time for a new community center. Amenities outlined in a possible Phase 1 included:
A full-sized gymnasium; a half-sized gymnasium; an indoor track; a general walking area; a flexible fitness room with exercise equipment; restrooms for changing; equipment storage space; a management office.
A possible Phase 2 would add: a large space to be used as an auditorium or banquet facility; a catering kitchen facility; restrooms; two or three "classroom" size spaces.
The report also discusses criteria for choosing a location for the center. In 2012, the committee recommended purchasing and tearing down the old Mount Carroll public school property on Main Street for the project.
Ald. Risko said he has asked repeatedly for a copy of the report from Bates, but has never received it. Risko said the report should be open to the council and Bates said he thought the council had received copies, which Risko said was incorrect.
"You were hiding it for some reason," Risko said.
Ald. Paul Kaczmarski agreed that the council should have the report for discussion. Bates said he would give aldermen copies of the report and later provided one to the Carroll County Mirror-Democrat.
Ald. Bergren voiced concerns that if the report became public and listed possible locations for the center, it would cause arguments and "factions" within the community.
"This will divide the city even more," Bergren said. "Just wait and see."
Audience member Sharon Larsen said Bergren's comments were "divisive" and upsetting, and she did not agree that the matter would divide the city. Bates defended Bergren, saying that often in their positions they "get beat up" by the public, even when they know they are doing the right thing.
Mayor Bates again tried to focus on how to proceed with planning and whether or not the city needs to look into a city planner, saying, "I don't want to spend a ton of money on someone to tell us what we think we need or don't need.”
Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation (GROWTH) Multifamily Development Director Jon Davidshofer, who Bates invited to the meeting, said that before GROWTH comes into a community for a project, it often utilizes one or two-page Community Need Assessments. He said the surveys can help give insight on what the public want or feel the community needs. Davidshofer told Bates he would email him a copy of these surveys.
Risko asked Davidshofer if GROWTH wanted to see the community center placed on the Shimer Square property, what guaranteed they would be non-biased and not skew information to support that happening. Davidshofer said it is not his or GROWTH's place to tell the city what to do with the money.
However, Bates and Bergren both agreed that utilizing the Shimer Square campus is one viable option the city should consider. Bates said he liked the idea of having a survey and working with community organizations on the project.
The council also discussed the possibility of seeking information from other communities that have done similar projects and touring facilities. One such community suggested by Bates was Byron.
"I think we should continue to talk, but I think we need to make a few field trips,' Bates said.
Risko suggested the council visit a new facility in Plainfield, which was recently built for $10.2 million. Coplan said Plainfield is more than two hours away in a much larger, more affluent area. He felt the council should focus on more local, smaller communities, suggesting Sterling, Geneseo and others.
Larsen however, said it is not a bad idea to look at larger areas and facilities, not wanting the city to rule anything out. Bates was willing to go to Plainfield, saying he has no problem looking at the "Taj Mahal" and getting ideas, but also said they need to look at smaller places.
"There's no wrong or right," Bates said.
Risko made a couple of other suggestions. The first one was the city look into establishing a park district. This is an action that also was recommended by the Community Building Advisory Committee in its 2012 report.
Risko's other suggestion prompted some disagreement. He asked if the city should consider hiring an attorney specializing in trusts, but the suggestion did not sit well with Coplan.
"Why? Tell me why," Coplan asked.
Risko answered it was because this type of work is what trust attorneys do, to which Coplan responded, "What do you think I do. This is not a complicated process.”
Coplan noted that he had done estate planning and trust law for more than 50 years.
After 90 minutes of discussion, Bates ended the meeting, saying he felt it was a very "constructive start." He said he plans to discuss possible field trips and set a date for another work session meeting on this issue at the council's Jan. 28 meeting.