CITY BEAT: DECISIONS, VOTES OF CITY COUNCIL, COUNTY BOARD REGARDING COVID-19 CRITICAL TO COMMUNITY
Most of the decisions and votes made by the city council and county board draw little public attention because they are not controversial.
However, there are always a few choices made by our elected officials where, regardless of which direction the public body decides to go, there will be some negative feedback. Still, the vast majority of items on the city council’s agenda over the years have been fairly routine involving various departments of the city and the need for allocating funds, or finding more money to meet increasing expenses.
The COVID-19 virus, and the impact of it, elevated the decisions made by city and county officials to “life or death” status where what direction a public body decides to go, potentially has serious and even deadly consequences. Not only is that true in terms of the lives of Macon County residents, but in the preservation of many local businesses.
Serving the public is not for the faint-hearted — especially when those decisions can result in taking the lives of some residents through wrong choices. Needless to point out, we are in the middle of a number of decisions being made by the state, the city council and county board that have “life or death” implications. I don’t only mean “life or death” involving the health of our residents, but “life or death” when it comes to local businesses.
• TIER 1 — Monday, the following announcement was made from the state: “With the state of Illinois launching multiple health care staffing contracts to increase hospital staffing, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is adjusting its mitigation metrics to reflect the additional staff. With the change, Regions 8, 9, 10, and 11 will move from the most restrictive Tier 3 to Tier 2. In addition, Region 1 and 6 have met the metrics to move to Tier 1, and Regions 3 and 5 have met the metrics to return to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan.”
Decatur and Macon County are in Region 6 and impacted dramatically by the jump from Tier 3 to Tier 1. Of course, the announcement was good news for most bars and restaurants that have been hanging on by their financial fingernails, but changing the metrics because of being able to increase hospital staffing does not really address stopping or impeding the spread of the virus itself — and certainly may result in a more relaxed attitude towards the virus from some local residents.
Hopefully, it will work out in the best interest of everyone. It is another life or death decision at the state level that could escalate, instead of decrease, the number of COVID cases because of changing the way we are dealing with the virus.
• THE CITY and county have been working in concert since the pandemic started to protect residents from COVID-19 by complying with restrictions imposed by the State of Illinois. That changed last week when the Macon County Board approved provisions for indoor dining (with some restrictions) and going contrary to the state’s Tier 3 directions. The county board’s direction also dealt a blow to the Macon County Health Department and its authority to enforce the state mandate. The board made the decision with a 12-9 vote and, generally, it was to help local bars and restaurants that have suffered great financial loss because of the state’s mandate.
Additionally, the fact that bars and restaurants in other counties were operating in less restrictive environments to stay open was putting those businesses in Macon County at an even greater disadvantage in keeping their businesses operating.
• THE MOVE by the Macon County Board last week put it in direct conflict with the stance of the Decatur City Council and the State of Illinois regarding the state mandate. A week ago, the council discussed the subject of relaxing restrictions but decided to wait to make any decision until last night’s (Tuesday) meeting, when the members would know if Region 6, including Decatur, would receive good news from the state about moving out of Tier 3. The council was wise in delaying any decision until they knew for sure what the state was going to do.
As I’m writing this column I do not know what action, if any, the council did or did not take last night (Tuesday) because we go to press Tuesday afternoon. There doesn’t seem to be a point of the city going its own way because it has moved from Tier 3 to Tier 1.
• QUICK RESPONSE — After the county board’s decision last week, there was an immediate response from the City of Decatur in the form of a news release that stated: “Action by the Macon County Board on January 14, 2021 to limit the authority of the Macon County Health Department does not change the city’s rules. Cities and villages like Decatur may still make and enforce laws and rules governing the opening and operation of businesses that sell and serve food and beverages. The city of Decatur’s requirements that holders of liquor, place-of-amusement and other licenses must conform to DCEO and IDPH guidelines for safety, closure and COVID virus protection remain in force.
“The city of Decatur will continue to enforce its ordinances until the City Council otherwise directs. Recent actions of the Macon County Board may alter the authority of the county health department to conduct enforcement or suspend food service permits; but they do not authorize opening of businesses in violation of State guidelines, and they do not protect bars and restaurants from liability for violation of State of Illinois’ COVID rules and guidelines. The State’s rules remain in force whether or not a county, village or city government chooses to enforce them. The laws and rules of the State supersede those issued by local government where they are in conflict with this matter.
“The City Council will discuss whether to amend and relax its rules for liquor, place-of-amusement, and other license holders at its next meeting on Tuesday, January 19. As of today, Region 6 remains in Tier 3, although the Governor said today that most regions of the State of Illinois are on track to move out of Tier 3 if current infection and hospitalization rates continue.”
• IT IS EASY to have 20-20 vision when looking back at a decision but it now appears the county board made the wrong decision to go against the state, and break with the city’s stance in light of Monday’s Tier 1 announcement that came only a few days after the board’s vote. Board members, at least in my opinion, should have waited as the city council did, to see what decision was going to come down from the state this week — and then act.
• FRANKLY, I hated to see the Macon County Health Department be neutralized in its role by the board’s action. The MCHD has been at the forefront of the battle to keep our community informed and protected from the spread of the virus since the beginning of this ordeal. I believe MCHD’s presence has helped keep our COVID-19 infection rate lower than it would have been without their involvement. When the county board shoved the MCHD’s authority aside in order to implement less restrictive measures on local bars and restaurants, it was one of those “life or death” decisions made by a public body. Perhaps, in light of what has happened this week, the board should return MCHD’s authority to the position where it was before it was taken away from them.
The decisions regarding COVID-19 at all levels are not about resurfacing roads, annexation and other items that normally come the way of our elected bodies — the decisions involve the preservation of human health and life in our community, and I pray the right decisions are being made for our community at all levels of government.
• QUESTION OFF the ballot — First, a petition for an advisory referendum was received in the Office of the Decatur City Clerk on Monday, January 4, 2021, with the question asking: “Should the city of Decatur allow the sale of recreational cannabis and cannabis-infused products to adults 21 and older?”
The question was going to be placed on the ballot in the Consolidated Election on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. However, on January 7, 2021, Decatur resident Jerrold H. Stocks filed the objection to the Petition. The Municipal Officers Electoral Board, held a hearing on Thursday, January 14, 2021 in the Decatur Civic Center Theater, to consider the objection. The hearing was open to the public. Stocks told the board the petition fell at least 600 signatures short of what is required for a petition to be filed. He claimed the petition by law must have 1,529 signatures when only 928 voters put their names on it. He also said that several voters on the petition either don’t live in Decatur or had voter information with an incomplete or missing address. The Municipal Officers Electoral Board concluded the petition did not meet the requirements of being placed on the ballot so it will not be voted on — at least in the April 6th election.
• SPECIAL THANK YOUs — Ann Irwin of Operation Enduring Support has been sharing some letters and notes her group has been receiving from very appreciative service members:
“Dear OES & Decatur Community Members, “All of here with the 1886 EFD Unit of Springfield would like to extend a big THANK YOU for the care packages we received on your behalf. Your support through both physical offerings and thoughts and prayers will help lift the spirits of everyone in our Unit here in Kuwait. “This comes at a time of the year that can be a mental struggle for the deployed Soldiers and their families back home. Your support is helping to keep smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts. Its truly encouraging for us and our families to receive your recognition of our sacrifices. “From all of us here in Kuwait, we extend our thanks and appreciation back to you, the spiritual warriors of the home front. May this season bring you peace, joy, love, and happiness. Please extend our heartfelt thank you to all those who made this contribution possible.” Signed by 20 soldiers with personal notes from each.
Dear OES “Thank you for sending so much ‘love from home’. It arrived to my unit in Korea last year and we are so grateful “Merry Christmas. With God and faithful citizens like you, our military is in good hands. Thanks to any/all of your family members for serving our nation too! “God Bless you and your families today and everyday!” With Gratitude Army Lieutenant Colonel Ann wrote to me: “These messages make it all worth while.”
Thanks, Ann, for all of the effort by you and volunteers to really lift the spirits of our military men and women.
• BRIGHT LIGHT! What was that bright light shining in the sky all over downtown Decatur Monday afternoon? Was it the sun that finally decided to make an appearance? After all of the dark and dreary days we’ve had recently, it was so nice to see the sun come out of hibernation! It’s also nice to drive to the office early in the morning and still see the downtown Christmas lights wrapped around the light poles spreading some cheer.
• BEWARE! Henry Reining of Decatur sent me the following message to warn our readers: “There is a new telephone scam going around where a soft female voice states that a problem has been found in your Apple iCloud account. It is a scam! Just today, we have received 6 calls from 3 or 4 different numbers. Please inform your readers that it is a scam. I don’t want anyone to fall for it.” Thanks, Henry. I don’t think I remember a time when more scams are being attempted by phone or on the internet. Well-known brand names, such as Amazon, are being used by scammers to try and pry information from those being contacted. I’ve lost count of how many emails I’ve received informing me that my Amazon order is on hold until I update my account information. I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon and I don’t have an account with the firm! I wonder how many people who do have Amazon accounts have fallen for this scam to get personal information out of them? Be very careful. Don’t fall for their scam.
• SIGNS OF SPRING? Dennis White of Elwin/Decatur sent me the following message: “I spotted my first robin sighting near my home office window this morning. I usually have food out for the birds so I wasn’t surprised at the sighting. Also there were several red headed woodpeckers working on a suet block they seem to enjoy. I hope this is a sign of early spring.”
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider. I always enjoy discussing the issues impacting our community with Brian and sharing perspectives on making our community better. — and safer. With everything going on in the nation’s capitol and in our own community there is always plenty to talk about.