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Robinson says Novus lawsuit against Crestwood now settled

October 26, 2005 - A lawsuit filed against the city of Crestwood in late 2002 by entities representing the developer of Big Bend Crossing, the Novus Development Co., has been settled, Mayor Roy Robinson announced last week at a town-hall meeting marking his first six months in office.

During the Oct. 20 town-hall meeting, Robinson also discussed a lawsuit the city filed against former City Administrator Kent Leichliter and others in November 2003, a few weeks after the release of a forensic audit of the city's finances for fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002.

In the fall of 2002, the Board of Aldermen rejected a request to approve a credit union for an "outlot'' at Big Bend Crossing. En-tities representing Novus later filed a lawsuit challenging the Board of Aldermen's decision that the proposed credit union was not a permitted use for the site under the terms of a redevelopment agreement between the city and the developer.

Big Bend Crossing, built on nearly 17 acres southwest of Big Bend Boulevard and Interstate 44, features a Sam's Club.

Besides Sam's, the development includes three outlots and a redevelopment agreement stipulated that permitted uses for those outlots were a hotel, retail stores, a fast-food restaurant or a restaurant providing only table service. A Hardee's was built on one of the outlots.

The lawsuit filed against Leichliter and former Finance Officer Robert Wuebbels alleges they breached their fiduciary duties by manipulating financial records to misrepresent the city's true financial condition to then-Mayor Jim Robertson and the Board of Aldermen. The lawsuit also alleges professional negligence and breach of contract by Hochschild, Bloom & Co., which served as the city's independent auditing firm from 1998 to 2002.

In January 2003, Leichliter filed a counterclaim against Crestwood contending the city breached an agreement to pay him salary and benefits through March 2004.

Terming lawyers "a necessary evil,'' Robinson said, "... I got these people together and I said: 'If you're draining this city and I find out about it, you'll be gone — period. And I talked to one of the people we were in litigation with and they — we resolved that. We still haven't had the signed documents, but we're not spending money for lawyers. So when we get that, we'll save some money on that litigation.

"We have another one going on. It's cost us a lot of money. Can't talk about what it is and all this, but I can tell you it cost a lot of money. I called the lawyers in, told the city attorney: 'You're responsible now.' I looked at the other attorney and I told him: 'If you are dragging your feet on this or trying to cost this city more money and I determine that's what it is, you're gone.' So I'm not wasting any — I'm not wasting my breath. I made it pretty clear to him. I have been informed every billing, the city's been given a 10 percent discount.

"So I think talking tough sometimes does pay off. Hopefully, that suit — it was on-going way before me — will be settled in the near future. We're hoping, but we're not going to sacrifice the city because we can't sacrifice anything. We need the money that the city has spent — or some of that money,'' he said.

In response to a question about why the city's legal costs are so high, Robinson referred to the suit against Leichliter and said, "... There's a lot of depositions, a lot of time and effort spent on that. And then we had another one that was ongoing which we resolved. I think we've resolved it. He hasn't signed the papers yet, but it's been agreed to. I hope he's a man of his word — Jonathan Browne of Novus. That one is over, so we're not spending any money there. So hopefully, and I think yesterday when we looked at that, we were — we spent over $900,000 last year for legal and consultants and professional services and all that ... Anyway, a lot of money and when we went through the budget, I think we're budgeting this year for about $150,000 for litigation or legal expenses ...''

A resident later asked about the city's fi-nancial condition and said, "... Whoever's making these irresponsible decisions should be held responsible — not some of these workers out here in the field. They didn't make the decisions. I think we need to determine who made those irresponsible decisions and they need to be dismissed.''

Robinson said, "I couldn't agree with you more, but, you know, the funny thing about it is, is that most of those people are gone, already, that were — I'm not saying they did anything wrong, but they're gone because there was a problem and to be honest with you, I never have delved into it. Other than reading the transcripts from the depositions, I have not gone and I don't think I've ever even asked (City Admini-strator) Mr. (Don) Greer anything about it other than are we in trouble or, you know, how we're going to come out on this or whatever.

"But I tried to stay away from them because I'll tell you the reason why: I know Mr. Leichliter. I worked with him on the Board of Aldermen and I've tried to stay away from that. I talked to him when I was running in August because I didn't know what was going on and I contacted and talked to him ... because I didn't know if it was a setup to get rid of him. I had my own ideas (about) what was going on and I talked to him for a little bit. But I find it more difficult now. I have the highest regards for him and I'm a retired federal agent and criminal investigator and if I didn't have — if I thought he was a thief or a liar or anything, I would not, I would not be in his corner. But I do honestly believe that a — I don't know who made the decisions, but somebody made the wrong decision and people weren't verifying what was happening. So that's the best answer I can give you. I don't know any more than that,'' he said.

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