The Mount Carroll City Council Monday night, Nov. 30, unanimously approved an ordinance formally accepting a settlement related to the William J. Davis Trust, which could see the city receiving as much as an additional $1.87 million.

"I think this is a fair settlement for all parties," Mayor Carl Bates said.

Davis died April 26, 1967, with his will establishing a trust with several organizations 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 — received annual payments while designated beneficiaries would not receive funds until all three of the individuals had died. The last of these three individuals, Herbert Davis, died in September 2019, at the age of 98. The Davis Trust is currently valued around $22 million.

Trust documents list six beneficiaries to receive certain percentages of the whole trust: 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 as a beneficiary, the Davis Trust document states:

"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."

For some time, contention has existed regarding the 30 percent portion for Shimer College. The trust specifically lists the beneficiary as "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 has taken assumed the Shimer College Great Books program and name. Earlier this year, an attorney representing North Central College filed documentation with the courts formally laying claim to the Shimer College portion of the Trust.

Since then, negotiations have been held concerning the issue. In early November, the City Council heard from City Attorney Trent Bush that a settlement had been tentatively reached. A special meeting was held by the city council at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, via Zoom, to approve the settlement. The settlement was set to be officially be approved by the courts Tuesday, Dec. 1.

Bush told the council that "by virtue of this settlement, we'll put this matter to bed." Bates thanked Bush for all the work he put into the negotiations. Bush said that while it would have been a "fun case" to see to the end, this settlement is for the best.

"I think the settlement appropriately represents the risks," Bush said.

With this settlement, North Central College agreed to accept 18.25 percent of the Trust amount, instead of the 30 percent allotted for Shimer College. The remaining 11.75 percent will be distributed among the other beneficiaries at the same percentage as laid out in the trust documents.

Bush reported that based on figures from the end of October, this 11.75 percent equals and extra $2.5 million to the "pot" for the other beneficiaries. He said this would mean approximately an extra $1.87 million for the City, for a total amount of approximately $12.71 million.

For the other beneficiaries, once the judgment is finalized by the court Dec. 1, the trust funds become available to them. Bush said Davis Trust attorney Ed Mitchell would be asking the court to set aside approximately $200,000 to cover final administrative expenses for the trust.

Mount Carroll resident Jud Smith asked Bates and the City what it will do with the money until it is used for building the community center. Bates reminded Smith and everyone else that unlike the other beneficiaries, the city will not receive the money right away. Instead, the three trustees will maintain the funds and release the money to the City after they receive and approve plans for the center submitted by the City of Mount Carroll.

The City Council has been working on planning for the community center, recently sending out a citywide survey on what type of programs and facilities people want in such a center. Bates foresaw a lot of work still required before they have a plan in place to present to the trustees. He said while he would like to see the City have a plan within four months, it will probably be six or more.

Ald. Mike Risko asked if the City could request any funds for planning expenses, pre-construction. Bates said first the City needs a firmer idea on what the expenses will be. He was unsure if the trustees would release any funds early for these expenses.

"If we can justify it, maybe they sign off, maybe they don't," Bates said.

The ordinance required a two-thirds vote for approval. The council approved it unanimously, with Mayor Bates also casting a vote.