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Lee County Chairman Disappointed No Money from Settlement

Jun 10, 2015

Ron Fedler spent a lot of time on the phone last week trying to find out what exactly happened regarding a 2013 lawsuit regarding a sewer system in rural Lee County. Fedler, who chairs the Lee County Board of Supervisors, said he only recently learned that the case was settled in January.

"I found out last Tuesday, June 2nd, late that afternoon that this had been reached and I was thinking, 'Wow.  Why haven't we received any money back for what Lee County put into the Argyle project?'" said Fedler.

The reason why the county had not received any of the $49,000 it paid to upgrade the sewer system in Argyle is because there was not money left after legal fees were taken out of the settlement.

Story Background

Regional Utility Service Systems (RUSS) works with rural, unincorporated communities in southeast Iowa to fund and build new sanitary sewer systems.  The organization eventually assumes ownership and operational responsibilities for the system.

RUSS hired Warner Engineering of Fairfield, Iowa to design a new system in Argyle about ten years ago. The system was functional at first, but problems started to surface.

RUSS determined the system was designed too small for the unincorporated community.  RUSS ended up filing a lawsuit against the engineering firm in 2013. The lawsuit was not going to resolve the issues, though, so RUSS secured a federal grant to upgrade the system and got Lee County to cover the local share of roughly $49,000.

Lee County was told it would recoup the money through a favorable resolution to the lawsuit.  The lawsuit was dismissed in January 2015 when RUSS and Warner Engineering reached an undisclosed agreement, which is not a favorable resolution according to the county.

County Left Empty-Handed

Fedler said in an interview with Tri States Public Radio that Warner agreed to pay RUSS $50,000. He said the entire sum went to the attorney hired by RUSS to handle the case.

"Between his fee and the fee he charged for a professional witness (who) never had to be called but still had to be paid, they took the whole $50,000," said Fedler.  "The only people who made money on this was the lawyer."

Fedler said the attorney worked on an hourly fee.  He said Lee County has requested an itemized bill for the services.  Fedler is not optimistic that will lead to anything more than a lesson learned by the county.

"Regrettably, this is what happens when you file all these lawsuits," said Fedler.  "Sometimes, you get a settlement and you get nothing and that is the stupidity with all these stupid lawsuits that are constantly filed.  The only ones making money are the lawyers and they just laugh at us."

The Lee County Board of Supervisors did not bring up the settlement during its recent meeting.  Fedler spoke following adjournment.

Despite his frustration, Fedler said something good did come out of the situation: the sewer system in Argyle is now functioning properly.