Board Meets to Review Discovery After Negotiations Stall in Labor Drive Lawsuit

By Jeremy Coumbes on July 14, 2021 at 10:20am

The Village of South Jacksonville is closer to being on the same page in-house on a lawsuit with Labor Drive, however, a settlement in the case may not happen anytime soon.

The Village of South Jacksonville Board of Trustees met in special session last night with only two items on the agenda. The main item was discussion of the ongoing lawsuit between the Village and Labor Drive over billing for water and sewer services.

The Board met in closed session for a little over an hour discussing the suit. Village Mayor Tyson Manker said following the meeting, that he felt it necessary to get everything out on the table with the Board of Trustees.

Only Paula [Belobrajdic-Stewart] was a member of the Board back when this thing started. So for several members of the Board who are new, this is all brand new information. But like I said I think some of the ones that have been around a little bit longer didn’t have all of the information as far as the negotiations that had taken place thus far.

So tonight was about bringing everybody up to speed with where we are in the litigation process and we will be meeting with attorney Leefers very soon to finalize the discovery items that have been requested.” Maker said that coming out of the meeting he feels he and the Board are on the same page on a litigation strategy.

In April Manker while still Village President-Elect, made public the 5-year old lawsuit with Jacksonville Affordable Housing LP, commonly known as Labor Drive Housing. In the lawsuit, Labor Drive alleges it discovered in the Spring of 2015 that the village had been overcharging residents of Labor Drive over the past decade.

The lawsuit alleges that between January 2006 to December 2014, residents of Labor Drive were overcharged over $326,000, and from January 1, 2015, to May of 2015 they were overcharged nearly $35,000. Manker says he is unsure when any kind of a settlement in the case will be reached.

The litigation schedule that was set before my administration came into office had discovery set for last year, and it was continued and continued and continued. So the discovery process, which is the basic exchanging of evidence at the beginning of a lawsuit, it’s insane to think that a lawsuit that is six years old is just beginning the discovery phase, but that’s where we are at.

So previous administrations had kicked the can down the road. There were hearings where neither party showed up if you look in Judici. So my staff and I have worked diligently for the last two days gathering up all kinds of documents as part of the discovery process dating all the way back to 2005.”

Last week Manker announced that he had taken a previous settlement that had been reached in the case during former Village President Harry Jennings’ administration off the table. The offer included a $100,000 credit to Labor Drive for water bills which Manker called ludicrous.

Manker says Labor Drive has not paid for water or sewer services dating back to 2015, while the suit alleging it was overcharged by approximately $370,000 has dragged on.

He says during that time, water and sewer services to the 254 units within the housing development has totaled almost $900,000. He says water service is provided by the Village however sewer service is contracted with the City of Jacksonville. Manker says since 2015 the Village has lost over $100,000 in paying the contracted costs with the city for sewer service used at Labor Drive.

Manker says he feels this is not a reasonable lawsuit, and at this point he is unsure what the plaintiffs in the suit want, considering the almost six years of free services received from the Village.

Manker says the special meeting allowed for everyone on the Board to ask questions and discuss the findings in preparation for the next meeting with their attorney. He says he does not believe a new court date has been set at this time, and he at this point does not have an idea of when a settlement in the case could be reached.