The City of Decatur is preparing to reopen the Civic Center and City offices to the public in June as we enter phase 3 of the reopening plan. The City Council held a special meeting Tuesday evening to consider repealing the Mayor’s Emergency Order to prepare for moving forward with the Phase 3 reopening on May 29th. The council also considered protocols needed as businesses resume allowing the public into their places of business. Because of the holiday weekend, this edition of the Tribune is going to press a few hours before the council met, so I don’t know what the members made “official” at Tuesday’s special meeting.
However, I would be surprised if there are any “significant changes” to the reopening plan the city mentioned in a news release just before the Memorial Day weekend which stated: “Beginning May 29th, we anticipate restaurants and bars to begin again providing outdoor dining, and the City is working with the Chamber and our business community to facilitate that. “Beginning next week (this week) also, all retail, health clubs, and personal care services will also be allowed to resume with certain protocols and capacity limits in place.” Nearly all outdoor recreational activities will also begin to reopen starting later this week.
• DECATUR and Macon County are being able to move forward with reopening because of keeping the number of confirmed coronavirus cases low, considering our population, as well as the low number of deaths from the virus — although no one wants to see any person die from this disease. I believe the low numbers are the result of the majority of our residents complying with the rules of social distancing, washing their hands, and wearing a mask when they are around other people. There is scientific proof that wearing a mask is 75% effective in preventing wearers from spreading the disease or catching it from someone else. There is no doubt the much anticipated reopenings (even with limitations) can go the other way and close down businesses again if people are lax in protecting themselves and others against the virus and the number of infections skyrocket.
• I INTEND TO keep wearing my mask when I am around people and maintain social distancing as much as possible until I feel that it is safe to no longer do so. Although we will continue to publish this newspaper each week, I will not open up our newspaper offices to public access until I’m sure it is safe for staff and the public. I’m not trying to make any political statement. I just want be be careful to protect myself, and others — and to make sure that businesses in our area can stay open. I’ve talked with several business owners in recent weeks and be assured, if there is a spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths, and businesses are forced to close down again, many of them will not reopen. They have barely survived the first lockdown (a few have already called it quits). A second lockdown will finish them off financially.
• WE JUST observed Memorial Day, which remembers all of those who sacrificed their lives for this nation to keep us safe. We are not being asked to go to a foreign country, give our lives on a battlefield to save others. We are being asked to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently and shelter-at-home when possible.
• PAY RAISES! — Can you believe that, while state governments across the country are trimming payrolls in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois is actually giving a raise to our lawmakers? Illinois Policy, a government watchdog organization stated: “State lawmakers are in line for a roughly $1,800 pay hike, bringing their base salary to more than $71,000 for what is technically a part-time job. These raises would come at a time when 1 in 4 Illinois workers are out of a job.
“Illinois state lawmakers already take home the fifth-highest base salary in the nation, according to a 2019 analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Among five other states with ‘full-time lite’ legislatures, Illinois lawmakers already take home the highest pay.
“Due to a law passed in 2014 under the leadership of House Speaker Mike Madigan and then-Senate President John Cullerton, lawmaker salaries, operating expenses and pay increases must be specifically prohibited for a given year for the payments to stop. This is what’s referred to as a ‘continuing appropriation.’ Last year more than 40 House GOP members signed on to a resolution opposing pay raises for lawmakers. But Speaker Madigan refused to call the bill, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a $1,600 pay hike for lawmakers.
“This month, state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okaw-ville, introduced House Bill 5777 to axe the 2.6% raise this year, as well as last year’s 2.4% bump. More than 40 other Republican lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.
“In addition to higher pay for politicians, Illinois state workers are in line to receive $261 million in automatic pay raises on July 1. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has refused to call for government worker pay freezes, furlough days or other reductions despite more than 1.1 million Illinoisans remaining out of work.”
That’s shameful. We expect our leaders to fight for us when we vote them into office, not get automatic raises when so many of the people they represent are suffering in so many ways. The automatic pay raises are in place so that lawmakers won’t have to answer to their constituents because they voted to enrich themselves each time a “raise” question would come up.
Thanks to lawmakers who tried to force the pay raise to a vote, but I think everyone knows that’s not going to happen — despite the worst economic time this state has seen in my lifetime — most lawmakers are looking out for themselves instead of the people. Thanks to Rep. Dan Caulkins of Decatur for donating his entire salary.
• BIRTHDAY wishes to Jack Fleener of Fleener & Roberts on North Main Street fame who turned 90 years old last week. Jack and his wife, Ruth, have lived in Indiana for quite-a-few years. I have known Jack and Ruth about all of my life and attended the North Water Street Church of Christ with them many years ago. Jack and I played a lot of basketball together over the years, from home courts, to the court behind the church building, to the gym at Third United Brethren Church to the DISC and for many years at what was then called the Decatur Racquet Club on Southside Drive.
Jack was quite-a-bit older than most of us, but he loved the game and was physically able to play it effectively into his eighties. Our church even formed a group of older guys to play in the Decatur Recreation Department’s basketball league and you will never guess what we named ourselves — The Water Steeet Wheezers, which seemed appropriate considering we were a lot older than the players on most of the teams we competed against. (Somewhere I have some photos of The Wheezers, if I haven’t sent them to the Smithsonian.) Mike Brummerstedt and Steve Kidd were two players Jack and I competed against in 2-on-2 games.
One of the basketball players we competed with and against at the Decatur Racquet Club for years was a guy by the name of…Bill Faber…an attorney who is now a member of the Decatur City Council. He also has a column that appears in this newspaper on page 7 twice a month. That’s how I met Bill Faber many years ago…playing basketball at the Decatur Racquet Club.
Several months ago, D. R. Roberts and Jack came to my office to chat and we sat around the conference table and shared many of the memories from the past.
Anyhooo, happy 90th birthday to “Sneaky Jack” from the “Big O”. When I am driving on North Water Street, I often look towards the parking lot at the back of the church building and remember all of the fun we had playing basketball there.
•WELL DONE! Congratulations and happy retirement to Regina Grace Cooper who will retire on June 1 after 54 years of service with the Illinois Department of Public Aid and the State of Illinois. We have a story and photo on page 12 of this week’s print and online editions. That’s quite an accomplishment in dedicated public service.
• CONGRATULATIONS to all of our high school and college graduates. A lot of creativity was used by caring communities in order to celebrate their students’ milestone. One thing is for sure. No 2020 graduate is ever going to forget their special graduation and it is something they can refer to all of their lives — especially when their children and grandchildren ask them what it was like to graduate way back in 2020!
• BREAKING IN! If you are like me you probably couldn’t believe your eyes when you read about someone breaking into the Law Enforcement Center. I’ve never heard of anyone “breaking in” to a law enforcement facility, only “breaking out”. Here’s the information I received from the sheriff’s department Friday morning: “A 44 year old Decatur man was charged with using an object to break out a window of the Law Enforcement Center and make entry into a restricted portion of the facility this morning at approximately 4:40 am.
“Macon County Deputies were called back to their headquarters after the man was located on video surveillance camera’s wandering around in unoccupied hallways of the building. Macon County Sheriff Deputies and the Decatur Police Department located the man hiding in an empty office. He was taken into custody at approximately 4:53 am.
“The man stated that he was being chased by several men and had ran to the Law Enforcement Center for help. Officers and Deputies working the investigation could find no evidence that he was being pursued by other individuals. He had suffered a cut to his arm and head when he smashed out the window and was transported to Decatur Memorial Hospital for his injuries and a mental evaluation.
“The individual was charged with Criminal Damage to State Supported Property and Criminal Trespass to State Supported Property. He was given a notice to appear and released to Decatur Memorial Hospital. Shortly after his evaluation he was released from DMH. His court date is set for July 28, 2020.”
• A MESSAGE from Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz is important to read. I have posted Chief Getz’s complete message on page 23 of this week’s print edition and it certainly shows the need for victims’ and citizens’ information in helping to solve local crimes. As Getz stated in his closing paragraph: “It is time for all citizens, neighbors, friends, family members and community leaders to be part of the solution and put an end to this unacceptable behavior. It is time for courage and change for the good of our community.”
I couldn’t agree more. What makes a “community” a community is for everyone to help make Decatur a better place to live.
• REMINDER — I will be happy when I no longer have to put this reminder towards the bottom of this column each week: the Decatur Tribune offices remain closed to the public as they have been for ten weeks because of the COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions and for the protection of staff. We continue to publish the newspaper each week. If you need to reach us during business hours, call (217) 422-9702 and leave a recorded message or email us at [email protected] aol.com anytime. You can also write to us via the USPS at Decatur Tribune, P. O. Box 1490, Decatur, Illinois 62525-1490.
• AN ABBREVIATED City Hall Insider is still on WSOY’s Byers & Co. Thursday mornings at 7:00 as Brian and I talk via phone as long as social distancing is in effect.
Stay safe. and thanks so much for your continued support for the Decatur Tribune. I appreciate it so much as we work our way through a difficult time,