The last time I talked to Park district officials about the Latin School soccer field in Lincoln Park, they were telling me the deal was done, the contract was signed, and there was no going back.
I guess they got that wrong.
On Thursday Judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird approved a settlement between the Park District and the north-side residents who had sued to block construction of the field. Under the terms of the settlement, the Park District will void its contract with Latin and apply to the Chicago Plan Commission for permission to build the field, which is well over half completed.
Given its general spinelessness I'm sure the Chicago Plan Commission will go along with the field, even though the Park District thoroughly disrespected them by not seeking their approval in the first place. The commissioners would probably approve a toxic waste dump in Lincoln Park if Mayor Daley told them to. Come to think of it, the Park District probably wouldn't even seek the commission's approval for such a dump, since it likely fits their definition of an allowable excavation.
At the moment, no one's really sure how much this soccer field is going to cost us. Originally the Park District and Latin said it would cost $900,000. Now they say the price tag's about $2 million -- all of which the Park District, and not Latin, will be paying, since the old contract has been voided.
And construction costs are only part of the story. The Park District and the city have run up untold thousands of dollars in legal fees defending themselves against the lawsuit.
But wait, there's more. The Park District has agreed to pay $40,000 to the plaintiffs for their legal fees. And, according to the original contract, the Park District agreed to indemnify Latin "against any losses, costs, damages, liabilities, claims, suits, actions, causes of action and expenses" that they "may suffer."
According to a couple of lawyers I talked to that means we, the hapless taxpayers, are probably on the hook for Latin's high-priced lawyers as well. But we won't know for certain until the final nullification agreement between Latin and the Park District is approved.
Keep in mind at least three high-priced lawyers have been working on this case for the defendants: one for Latin, one for the city, and one for the Park District. When all's said and done, the lawyers may end up costing taxpayers more than the field.
Keep in mind that all of this would have been avoided if the Park District sought Plan Commission approval for the soccer field, as the Lakefront Protection Ordinance clearly requires.
But you know Mayor Daley's attitude toward lawsuits. As he put it the other day, they don't really bother him. "I don't why everybody is always worried about lawyers," Daley said. "You can never function at all, both in the public and private sectors, if you're worried about lawyers."
Of course, that's easy for him to say--he's got the taxpayers picking up the tab.