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  Monday October 20th, 2014    

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City settles civil lawsuit (07/10/2013)
By Chris Rogers

The city of Winona reached a settlement with Mark Harris in a lawsuit that charged the city with interfering with a renovation of Harris’ two downtown storefronts. Harris sought over $100,000 in damages from the city, which he said took control of the renovation work from him. In the settlement, the city agreed to pay Harris $10,000 and release a $3,500 mortgage on his property held by the city in exchange for withdrawing the charges against the city.

In a press release, city staff members expressed confidence that the city would have won the trial, which was scheduled for today, and stated that the city saved money in the settlement by avoiding legal expenses. City staff and council members said the release was their only comment on the case and settlement.

Harris also settled with the other party in the suit, agreeing to pay Waumandee Creek Sealants (WCS) of Fountain City and drop charges against the company, according to the WCS’s lawyer in the case. Attorney Michael Ablan declined to give specifics of the settlement, saying he did not want to threaten the still delicate agreement by releasing the amount to be paid to WCS. He did say that it was “a compromise agreement.” Harris confirmed that a tentative settlement had been reached between WCS and himself. He also declined to provide specifics on the amount paid to WCS. The company had been seeking $13,600 prior to the settlement.

In 2008, Harris participated in a city-run program that provided low-interest loans to property owners for renovations in the downtown historic district. According to city staff, the renovations had to be done in accordance with State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) standards. Harris hired WCS for brickwork, tuck-pointing, and window and door replacement at his storefronts that house Harris Motorcycle Equipment and renter Red Wing Tattoo, at 161 and 163 East Third Street. As work progressed, relations between WCS and Harris broke down, according to accounts filed at the Winona County Courthouse. WCS did the job poorly and incompletely, Harris charged. Harris harassed WCS employees, the company alleged. WCS ultimately filed a mechanic’s lien against Harris, claiming that he still owed them $13,600. Harris filed countercharges against WCS and cross charges against the city of Winona, accusing the city of telling WCS what work to do and what work not to do, without consulting him. The city acted as “a general contractor,” actions that were outside of its contractual authority, Harris alleged.

The city council and city staff met with the city’s attorney in the case during a special, closed session on Monday. The Minnesota Open Meeting Law allows governments to close meetings to the public to confer with their legal counsel to discuss cases in which they are a party. After 40 minutes of discussion, the group reached a decision. 

 

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