CITY BEAT: ILLINOIS TO FULLY REOPEN FRIDAY IN ATTEMPT TO RETURN TO ‘NORMAL’

 

Editor Paul Osborne

     With no thanks to the majority of residents in Macon County who refused (for whatever reason) to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the state has reached a positivity rate to fully reopen on Friday, June 11. Only about 1/3rd of Macon County residents have been vaccinated making our area one of the least vaccinated counties in the state.

     Governor JB Pritzker has released guidelines for Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, which will go into effect on June 11th and mark a full reopening of all businesses and activities. This guidance will mean businesses, large-scale events, conventions, amusement parks, and seated-spectator venues, among others, will be able to operate at full capacity for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The State is also lifting the outdoor mask requirement in schools in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

     “After a tremendously challenging year, Illinois has now reached a defining moment in our efforts to defeat COVID-19,” said Governor Pritzker. “Thanks to the hard work of residents across the state, Illinois will soon resume life as we knew it before – returning to events, gatherings, and a fully reopened economy, with some of the safety guidelines we’ve adopted still in place. As we fully reopen, this administration remains laser focused on ensuring a strong recovery for our small businesses and communities. Our FY22 budget invests $1.5 billion in small business relief, tourism, job-creating capital projects and more and we look forward to getting these dollars to communities across our state as quickly as possible.”

     According to information released by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH): “Upon entering Phase 5, fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. The State will continue to recommend masking for unvaccinated persons, and require it for all people while traveling on public transportation, in congregate settings, in health care settings, as well as in schools, day cares, and educational institutions pursuant to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and CDC guidance. Businesses and local municipalities can put in place additional mitigations as they deem appropriate.

      “Under Phase 5, all sectors of the economy can resume at regular capacity. Phase 5 also marks the return of traditional conventions, festivals, and large events without capacity restrictions. Large gatherings of all sizes can resume across all industry settings, and Phase 5 removes requirements that businesses institute mandatory social distancing in seated venues as well as daily health screenings of employees and visitors. Businesses and venues should continue to allow for social distancing to the extent possible, especially indoors. Businesses and venues may also continue to put in place additional public health mitigations as they deem appropriate, including requiring face coverings.

     “While the entry to Phase 5 signals an end to business and activity specific guidance requiring social distancing, health screening and other required operational shifts, Illinois will continue to recommend face coverings for unvaccinated persons, as well as all individuals while (1) on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation and in transportation hubs, such as airports and train and bus stations; (2) in congregate facilities such as correctional facilities, veterans’ homes, and long-term care facilities, group homes, and residential facilities; and (3) in healthcare settings.

     “In addition, the guidance for schools is updated to align with the CDC guidelines, including lifting the requirement for individuals to mask outdoors in most situations.”

     • ACTUALLY, Decatur and Macon County started getting “back to normal” the past few weeks with Splash Cove opening, the Macon County Fair alive again at the fairgrounds, the Devon hosting entertainment and several other places and activities that have been attracting people who are enthusiastic about being able to get out and go in and around Decatur!

     • IS DECATUR CELEBRATION dead? I’ve had several people ask me about the Decatur Celebration and if it is DOA, not only because of COVID-19 causing its cancellation last year and this year, but because recent years were not easy for the event considering the changes that had to be made and it was no longer a free family festival.

     On April 3, 2020, the Decatur Celebration Board of Directors announced that the 2020 Decatur Celebration was being cancelled due to COVID-19. “The financial ripple effect of COVID-19 is real,” stated the board. “Many organizations – not for profit and profit – will be struggling in the months to come. The Decatur Celebration is a not for profit, but we also provide funding to many other not-for profits. Annually, approximately $100,000 goes to local non-profits because of their efforts during the Decatur Celebration. This year will be especially difficult for those groups who have grown to rely on the Decatur Celebration to help fund their show choir competitions, uniform purchases, sporting events, etc. We recognize this hardship for them and encourage our community to rally around these groups to ensure their survival.”

     The board concluded its message by stating that it was planning for the 35th Decatur Celebration “that will be held on August 6-8, 2021.”

     Last November, the Celebration Board of Directors indicated, in a story on WAND News, that financial resources were “insufficient” to hold the 2021 event. The board said in a statement sent to WAND News: “We have not been able to fundraise at the level that we have in prior years but the Board of Directors has worked diligently since March to minimize expenses by closing the office space and furloughing staff and even taking on much of the administrative duties ourselves. Additionally, we have spoken with other local organizations about potential partnerships but at this time of uncertainty many organizations are having to realize their own reorganization strategies.”

     • UNLESS SOME kind of miracle happens, the Decatur Celebration is gone forever — except in the memories of those who enjoyed it over the years.

     Obviously, with our newspaper office being downtown, I was present for all the Decatur Celebrations held since the beginning. Our newspaper office was located on the northwest corner of Franklin & Main when the first Celebration was held. It seems like only yesterday that Celebration Founder Fred Puglia came by my office to get some input on the potential of holding the Celebration. The late Orv Graham who was also involved, along with Mayor Gary Anderson, Jim Masey, and others, appeared on my “Newsline” television program on WFHL-TV several times to promote the first Celebration.

     I also remember that it was really hot when the first Celebration was held and Fred asked if they could use the lobby of our building (which was air conditioned) to put the racing rats to keep them cool when they weren’t racing in a pest control exhibit. In case you are wondering, they were in cages.

      Of course, the production and entertainment changed a lot over the years. I was more familiar with the “oldies” like “Danny & the Juniors”, “The Kingston Trio”, etc., which Fred lined up to appear at the Celebration, than most of the acts in recent years. To me, the real “magical” aspect of the Celebration was the transformation of downtown from traffic flowing through to no vehicle traffic allowed. A “Celebration City within a city” was created for one weekend and, except for a few grease spots on the pavement where concessions had been located, Monday morning downtown was “back to normal” with traffic flowing through and no sign of what went on there over the weekend.

     • ONE OF the “perks” of the Decatur Mayor’s Office is/was in being able to start the Decatur Celebration each year. As mayor, I always enjoyed standing on the Show Stage next to the Decatur Civic Center and looking south and seeing people crowded on Franklin Street about as far as I could see and opening the Celebration with the words: “Let the Celebration begin!” I also enjoyed being in the “Razzle Dazzle Goodtimes Parade” each year.

     Hanging on one of the walls in my office is the Decatur Celebration’s “Beyond The Call of Duty” award that was presented to me in August, 2008. I’m not sure if it was for the years I started the Celebration during the time I was mayor, or for keeping the “racing rats” cool in our lobby during the first Decatur Celebration!

     • A LOT has changed in Decatur (and the world) since the Decatur Celebration came into existence. There really is a lot more to do in Decatur, for residents and visitors, than there was when the Celebration was founded to be a magnet in giving people a chance to unwind and enjoy themselves before the summer was over. Obviously, there wasn’t Splash Cove, the Devon, the present Children’s Museum, Red Tail Run, greatly expanded Scovill Zoo and so much else that either didn’t exist or had a much smaller footprint back then. Decatur has become a “destination” not because of one event one weekend a year, but because of a lot of things to see and do every day of the year.

     • THE DECATUR Municipal Band is ready to come back for a shortened season — but it is coming back and that’s great news for those of us who love the concerts. The band’s season will start July 4, 2021 in Fairview Park and a July 4th concert has to be filled with patriotic songs and we sure can use them these days. The following evening (July 5) the band will perform in Central Park and it is always a great setting to see and hear the band play in the downtown park which is where I normally see the program. Concerts will run all of July and August in Central Park, Fairview Park and the Devon Lakeshore Amphitheater.

     Muni-Band 2021 Summer Schedule July 4 – Fairview Park, 6pm July 5 – Central Park, 7pm July 11 – Fairview Park, 6pm July 12 – Central Park, 7pm July 18 – Fairview Park, 6pm July 19 – Central Park, 7pm July 21 – The Devon, 7pm July 25 – Fairview Park, 6pm July 26 – Central Park, 7pm August 1 – Fairview Park, 6pm August 2 – Central Park, 7pm August 8 – Fairview Park, 6pm August 9 – Central Park, 7pm August 15 – Fairview Park, 6pm August 16 – Central Park, 7pm August 18 – The Devon, 6:30pm August 22 – Fairview Park, 6pm August 23 – Central Park, 7pm August 29 – Fairview Park, 6pm August 30 – Central Park, 7pm 2021 Fall Concert – October 12 at 7:30 pm, Tabernacle Baptist Church

     • SHERIFF RETIRES — The Macon County Sheriff’s race of 2018 has finally been decided once and for all. As reported in last week’s column, a 36-page order from Champaign County Circuit Court Judge Anna M. Benjamin recently released determined Republican Jim Root actually won the election by 16 votes over Democrat Tony Brown who was initially declared the winner in 2018 and sworn into office where he has served for the past 2 1/2 years.

     Many thought that Brown would appeal the decision, which would drag the continuing story out even more, but, Brown announced at a news conference on Friday that he will not appeal the judge’s ruling and will retire from office effective June 28, 2021. Sheriff Brown has worked for the office for the past 31 years of his life. During the press conference held at the Law Enforcement Center Sheriff Brown expressed his reasoning and plans for the future. He said: “When Law Enforcement and the Community come together we are so much stronger when we work together.”

     Sheriff Brown has played an instrumental role in working to bring community awareness and his role as a Law Enforcement leader to the forefront of his time as Sheriff. He has continually stressed that his employees and co-workers take part in community events and the idea of public service.

     Below is the message he sent to the employees of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office moments before the press conference: “I thought I would take the time to let each one of you to know you make me proud. It really came full circle to me June 2, 2021 when I had the opportunity to watch one of our young deputies take the initiative to replace a bicycle a little girl had stolen. To see the surprise and joy in her eyes let me know that our Sheriff’s Office really gets it. I truly believe that little girl will remember that day for the rest of her life. ‘People may not remember what you say or what you do, they will always remember how you make them feel’.

     “I don’t know if any of you know my story, but I was adopted as an infant and brought to Decatur. I grew up in the 800 block of E. Johns St. and raised in a single parent home by my mother due to my father dying when I was one year of age, and my mother’s second husband died due to a vehicle jack collapsing while he was working on a vehicle. I have a sister that is seven years my elder who happens to be my biological sister. I later discovered approximately 23 years ago that I was the youngest of 10 children and I had two sisters that were federal agents.

     “My sister who I mentioned that was seven years my elder worked for and retired from the California Department of Corrections. I had the opportunity to watch a young deputy in the neighborhood interacting and watching how they responded to him. As a young child that dad had passed away, I was able to see someone that I admired from afar and wanted to be like.

     “That person was Roger E. Walker who later became the Sheriff of Macon County in 1998 and served until 2003. He made history in the state by becoming the first African American sheriff elected in the entire state.

     “I graduated from Eisenhower High School in 1986 and joined the United States Army where I served until November 1989. I attended Richland Community College and a couple days after my first semester was completed, I began my career for the Macon County Sheriff’s Office as a Correctional Officer (May 21, 1990). I then tested for deputy and was interviewed by then Sheriff Lee Holsapple.

     During that interview the question was asked of me by the Sheriff ‘Where do you see your future with the Sheriff’s Office?’ My response to him was ‘to be sitting in the seat you are in’!

     “The look on his face and in his eyes was priceless. Since beginning my career here at this office over 31 years ago, I have worked in every capacity within our office and if I didn’t work it, I had the pleasure to supervise it. I have always believed to never forget where you came from and treat everyone with respect. You never know someone else’s story and the impact you may have just because of the brief encounter you have with them.

     “We should always listen to understand, and not just listen to respond. Many times, individuals’ actions at times are not directed at you personally and if you can listen to them without compromising your safety then please do so.

     “Sometimes people just want to be heard. I truly this has been a reason I have been successful throughout not only just my career, but my personal life. Remember your why! Ask yourself why you are doing what you do here at the Macon County Sheriff’s Office. I believe it has always been about the community and our service to it. I believe that things come full circle, and I had the pleasure of watching it Wednesday. You never know who you inspire because they are watching you. It may be the kid that if you pay attention to statistics who shouldn’t be where they shouldn’t be, but through hard work, dedication and grace may serve as Sheriff and accomplish so much with the help of the entire team. I have as well as you have seen all the discord throughout the country and this truly bothers me, because we are not communicating with one another to understand. People are listening to respond.

     “Our community and office have been going through this controversy about the 2018 Sheriff’s race and it has truly divided us. This truly bothers me, and I have always placed his community and office first. On May 28th there was a ruling which will keep this saga going and continue to divide all of us. I am making the decision to not appeal this decision so we all can begin to heal both the community and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office.

     “I am announcing my retirement from the Macon County Sheriff’s Office effective June 28, 2021 and will assist with the transition for the new Sheriff. Just because I am retiring from the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t mean I am retiring from our community. I will always be available to each and everyone of you if needed. God Speed and Stay Safe!”

     • USPS ‘BUSINESS PLAN’ — A “business plan” is in the works for the United States Postal Service. Check out my “Viewpoint” column on page 3 of this week’s print and online editions. I have a definite opinion on the USPS “business plan” and how it is not even close to any business plan I’ve ever heard of or applied in my own business. Wow!!!

     • I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning beginning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider portion of his program. I always enjoy our discussion on the news and issues that impact our community and nation.

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