EP Council Says It Takes Public Health Seriously, But Also Needs To Protect Livelihoods

Nov 17, 2020

The East Peoria City Council is standing by its non-enforcement of Gov. JB Pritzker's COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.

This comes as one of its own disclosed Tuesday he missed the previous council meeting due to his own bout with the coronavirus.

"It was tough, and it's certainly something to take serious," said Commissioner Dan Decker. "It's one of those things that, as long as possible, people should try to stay away from getting it. You never know how it's going to affect you."

Decker came through the illness without any major complications, but that hasn't been the case for everyone in East Peoria. Decker said a Fon du Lac Park District police officer he knows recently lost his wife to the virus.

"I encourage everybody to do what you can," Decker said. "Even if you're not worried about getting it yourself, you could give it to someone else, who can give it to someone else. Hopefully we can all do what we can to slow this down."

But Decker said he stands by Mayor John Kahl's decision not to enforce the governor's coronavirus restrictions, citing the hardship they create on small business owners.

"One could say it's an unfunded mandate," Decker said. "You tell somebody they've got to close, but yet you give them no ability to really meet their needs."

He said the nation needs to be better prepared for the next pandemic by preparing a system to support business owners financially in the event they are forced to close up shop for an extended period of time.

The governor announced he will move the entire state to Tier 3 of his mitigation plan on Friday as case counts continue to soar statewide. This introduces new restrictions on a broader range of businesses, like retailers, salons, and gyms--while completely closing others, such as museums, casinos and movie theaters.

For his part, Kahl pushed back on claims the City of East Peoria is trying to "defy" the governor. He said he's trying to strike a balance between protecting health and protecting livelihoods.

"I think everybody has a right to protect their livelihood. And that's all we've done. We've never discounted the virus. We've taken it seriously from day one," he said.

He said patrons also should be mindful of the sanitation and safety protocols businesses have implemented.

"We've just tried to strike a balance here," Kahl said. "It's not that we've taken a position of defiance, as the media likes to portray."

Kahl said he has a "difference of opinion" with the governor. He said ultimately, decisions should rest in the hands of residents and business owners.

Commissioner Seth Mingus said he's received both positive and negative feedback about the city's COVID-19 response. But he thinks the city is taking the right approach.

"I don't think the two sides are ever going to agree," Mingus said. "I think it's about a balance, think it's about doing what we can to continue supporting our community as a whole. And that's what I just ask people to do. There's not a perfect answer to it. But we just need to work together, and respect each others' opinions."

Commissioner Mark Hill said he also wants to push back on the narrative that East Peoria isn't taking COVID-19 seriously. He said a lot of work is happening behind the scenes.

"We've changed cleaning protocols. We've got equipment that when a police car or ambulance is thought to have some exposure, those vehicles are cleaned. We've put up plexiglass. Provided sanitation stations. We've taken the CDC-recommended steps to staying safe," Hill said of city properties and procedures.

The Tazewell County Health Department has encouraged people to comply with the mitigations.

Metrics from the department released Tuesday show East Peoria is fourth in the the county for overall coronavirus cases. Pekin, Morton, and Washington all report more cases. East Peoria is the county's second-largest city by population size.

Kahl also announced Tuesday the East Peoria Festival of Lights Parade will proceed as scheduled this Saturday. He said there's enough room on the parade's 2.5 mile route through the city for people to socially distance properly.

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