As we approach Independence Day weekend, the mood of our community and the nation seems different in 2021 than it has been in many of the years before the pandemic hit. Independence Day this year, for many of us, is about being free from most of the limitations, isolation and concern of COVID-19 in our community. While we remember the anniversary of the freedom declared in the Declaration of Independence that gave birth to this nation so long ago, we also feel a greater sense of liberty through being released from many of the restrictions of a pandemic. Considering everything that has been going on in our nation the past few years, which has brought out a lot of hate and violence from some people, it is well to remember the kind of nation that was founded on July 4, 1776, and what the founding fathers intended the nation to be as the years passed by. They paid a heavy price (financially and physically) and so did many of their families because they took a stand for what they believed was right.
• FAMILIAR FACES — It is nice to be able to get out more and start seeing people I haven’t seen in awhile because of the pandemic. I was waiting to pick up my chef’s salad (lots of vegetables) inside Napoli’s Italian Restaurant Friday when I ran into (not literally) Rep. Dan Caulkins who was on his way out and he stopped to shake my hand and talk very briefly. As most of you know, Dan was a member of the Decatur City Council for some of the years that I served as mayor, and he has always treated me with friendliness and respect — whether I was mayor, editor or private citizen. Dan is in his second term serving many of the people who live in the part of Decatur that is in his district. While I was waiting for my call-in order,
I also chatted with another longtime friend, Macon County State’s Attorney Scott Rueter, who arrived at the restaurant for a lunch meeting. Scott is doing a great job as state’s attorney. Part of what we discussed was about respecting and protecting our law enforcement officers.
• MY CONCERN for our police and sheriff’s officers has never been greater than it is now, heightened by the recent fatal shooting of Champaign Policeman Chris Oberheim, the wounding of his partner, and a Decatur policeman being shot at recently by a suspect while the officer was in his parked patrol car in a church parking lot filling out paperwork. The shooter was only five feet away and that shot could have killed the officer in cold blood!
I wrote in my “Viewpoint” column in this week’s print edition of the Decatur Tribune about the effort to make “Election Day” a national holiday so more people will vote and what I think about it. If we are going to add another national holiday how about a “Thank Our Police Officers Day”? The job of law enforcement officers is dangerous enough without having many citizens showing their contempt for them when they show up because they’ve been called into a neighborhood to deal with violence. Our police officers are being subjected to verbal assaults, having objects thrown at them and general disrespect from some of the very people they are called upon to help! That’s got to stop or we are facing a bleak future, not only in Decatur, but in the nation. Calls to defund the police are too outrageous to even be noticed!
Don’t judge all of the hard-working police officers and sheriff’s deputies by the disgusting actions of a few in big cities. We are extremely fortunate to have a police force and a sheriff’s office that are among the best in the nation. They deserve our appreciation and respect for the difficult job they do.
• CITY COUNCILMAN David Horn has a letter to the editor in this week’s print edition of the Decatur Tribune, thanking Decatur Police Officers. I hope we see more of that in the future — public leaders, private citizens and businesses saying “thank you” to those who have an extremely difficult job in protecting the public. GREAT idea, Councilman!
• THREE SPACES TO PARK? — I’m not sure why the driver of the vehicle at right needed three spaces to park, but I couldn’t help but notice this scene in the 100 block of East Main Street one day last week. Maybe his vehicle ran out of gas and he was forced to pull into the space as a last result. (Someone saw the guy get into the vehicle hours later after he parked it there and drive west on Main Street so that probably wasn’t the reason). It appears the driver was originally heading east on Main Street and tried to pull into one of the parking spaces which are all for cars heading west. A young woman and her child came back to the white vehicle next to it and tried to leave but were block by the incorrectly-parked vehicle. A city employee that issues tickets to those who park longer than two hours in the same space drove by the vehicle but didn’t stop. Maybe she couldn’t figure out which space he was in for more than two hours, or, maybe if you occupy three spaces (including a part of a handicap parking space) you get six hours of free parking! Anyhoo, it should be apparent without a reminder that, when parking in a downtown space, make sure your vehicle stays within the lines of ONE parking space or you may have trouble passing your next license renewal driving (and parking) test.
• I MENTIONED Napoli’s, in the 100 block of East Main, earlier in this column and that place seems to really be busy these days. Each time I have stopped by to pick-up a salad to take back to the office, I see more and more diners inside. It is great to see new businesses and those well-established businesses experiencing busy times again! Things are really looking up in Decatur and so many other places.
• BOUNCING BACK — While I am on the subject of businesses bouncing back, the Jobs Report Analysis by the EDC of Decatur-Macon County was released last week and Andrew Taylor, Economic Development Officer for the EDC stated: “I want to draw your attention to the year-to-year recovery of Leisure-Hospitality. This sector was by far the hardest hit by the shut-down and Stay at Home orders. I consider the recovery of these direct, recreational service industry jobs as the surest sign of an economic spring.”
“Another step in the right direction…” was the thrust of the report, with the following analysis: “The month of May saw the continued stabilization of our Local Labor Force and the continued recovery of our Local Employment and our Total Nonfarm Employment. We also saw a significant drop in both our Unemployment Count and Rate. In fact, our unemployment count year-to-year has dropped by over 50%.”
• HEADING BACK — An article on the economy in the Wall Street Journal last week had a headline reading Americans Are Leaving Unemployment Rolls More Quickly in States Cutting Off Benefits. As I’ve written before in this column states where stimulus and unemployment benefits are still being handed out are having a difficult time getting many people back to work.
Saving To Invest, in a recent article, stated: “With several states ending federally funded unemployment benefits earlier than planned to encourage workers to return to work, there was a concern this action could spread nationwide. But the good news for unemployed workers in Illinois is that most of the states cancelling unemployment benefits are Republican led, which Illinois is most certainly not. So it is highly likely that Illinois claimants will keep ALL pandemic unemployment benefits, including the extra $300 weekly payment, until the current program end date which would be the week ending September 4th, 2021 in IL.”
There are many people who will not seek employment until government assistance runs out for them and we are certainly seeing how that is playing out in our own community with so many “Help Wanted’ signs and advertisements and so few applicants. While government assistance which, in many cases, translates to more money than some people can earn at a regular job, is not the only reason people are not looking for work these days — it is a major reason.
• NEARLY two-thirds of Macon County’s residents have not been vaccinated and it is recommended that those people wear a mask when they are in public places where they are close to other people. I will have to admit that, wherever I go, about all of the people I see aren’t wearing a mask. Either I’m very fortunate to be around people who have been fully vaccinated — or a lot of people who have not been vaccinated are not wearing a mask, for whatever reason. Some public buildings have signs on the door “recommending” masks for those people who have not been vaccinated, but most businesses I see no longer have any sign. I think we are at a point in our county, and probably across the nation, that getting more people vaccinated is going to be difficult. With life starting to return to “normal”, most of those who have not been vaccinated no longer feel the need to do so because the danger has passed. I certainly hope they are right.
• HOWEVER… the Delta variant of COVID is spreading in the United States and may be associated with more severe disease and a higher risk of hospitalization. According to a news item on National Public Radio: “The good news is that the vaccines look like they can protect people against the Delta variant. A new study from Public Health England showed two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant compared with 93% effectiveness against the Alpha variant, the variant first detected in the U.K. The vaccine only provided 33% protection after just one dose.” Obviously, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and to stop the variant from spreading and impacting Macon County and the rest of the nation. About all of the people passing away from COVID these days were not vaccinated.
• KRYSTLE TEMPEL, Health Educator, at the Macon County Health Department, stated in her most recent report: “Since the MCHD’s last report, there have been 7 new COVID-19 cases reported in Macon County, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 11,021 since the start of the pandemic. “We are incredibly saddened that we also must report the passing of one resident with COVID-19 during this timeframe. The individual was a male in his 80’s.
• IT WAS great to return to the broadcast studio for my regular 7:00 Thursday morning “City Hall Insider” visit with Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. It was the first time that I had actually been in the studio to do the show since the COVID-19 Pandemic arrived in our community in March, 2020. All my weekly appearances on the show in the past 15 months were by phone and it was great to see and talk with Brian and Nick Smith in person. While it was convenient to do the show via phone from my office, it just wasn’t the same as discussing the issues of today together in the studio. All members of the media made a lot of adjustments during the pandemic — along with about everybody else.