County board again rejects inspection placards for rural restaurants

County board again rejects inspection placards for rural restaurants

URBANA -- For the second time this year Champaign County Board members have killed a plan to extend a mandatory food service placard system into areas of the county outside of Champaign-Urbana.

The vote was 14-5. The five votes for the measure included Democrats Josh Hartke, Alan Kurtz, Ralph Langenheim and Giraldo Rosales, and Republican Stan James.

Voting against it were Republicans Aaron Esry, Stan Harper, John Jay, Jeff Kibler, Gary Maxwell, Jim McGuire, Diane Michaels, Max Mitchell and Jon Schroeder, and Democrats Astrid Berkson, Pattsi Petrie, Rachel Schwartz, Chris Alix and James Quisenberry.

The placard system -- which would require that all restaurants, bars, grocery stores and other businesses that sell food publicly display their health inspection scores -- was advanced by retiring board chairman Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat who also serves on the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District board.

The  placard system is mandatory in Champaign-Urbana. It requires food service establishments to prominently post a public health service-issued placard that says whether the establishment is in compliance with the local health ordinance and other rules and regulations.

"It's something that in my mind is just not needed," said St. Joseph area Republican Aaron Esry. "I guess it's just one of these things, if it ain't broke don't fix it. We don't have issues."

"I urge you to give the people in the rural areas the chance to run their business as they see fit, not as someone in Champaign-Urbana thinks they ought to," said Mahomet Republican John Jay.

Another Mahomet Republican, Gary Maxwell, said restaurant inspections can give customers a false sense of security.

"I think you all know about some problems at our nursing home. It got a green placard," said Maxwell. "We're all not happy with the way the inspections at the nursing home have been recently. It's a snapshot in time. It doesn't give you the full picture of what's going on."

Urbana Democrat Chris Alix called the placard system "unnecessary and potentially even counterproductive.

"I feel that the placards, because your likelihood of getting sick on a given day depends so much on sort of random factors that are going on in that kitchen that day, create a false sense of security and a needless sense of concern."

Also Tuesday board members gave preliminary but unenthusiastic approval to moving forward with the creation of two new joint enterprise zones, one each with the cities of Champaign and Urbana.

Officials from both cities will return to the board in November with proposed intergovernmental agreements to cover what they called an important economic development tool.

And in a voice vote, board members gave preliminary approval to imposing a $20 fee on convictions in most felony and misdemeanor cases where a court appearance is required to help support the Champaign County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children).

R. Rush Record, executive director of the local CASA, said the mostly volunteer organization advocates for about 425 children in the county who are victims of abuse and neglect.

Fourteen Illinois counties already have voted to impose the additional fine to help support local CASAs. Three area counties have agreed to so, including Vermilion ($10), Macon ($15) and Coles ($30) counties.

Meanwhile, some board members expressed concern about the proposed enterprise zones, particularly the one covering Urbana and the county. It extends into undeveloped areas east and north of the city.

"It looks like more than half of the zone goes outside of Urbana, which means the city is subsidizing people to build outside of the city at the expense of the people in the city, which seems like a recipe for urban sprawl and urban decay," said Champaign Democrat Astrid Berkson. "I find that map really unacceptable."

Several board members said their support for the enterprise zones would depend on whether other taxing districts -- including school and park districts, the Parkland College Board and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board -- voted to endorse the proposed enterprise zones.

"It makes a big difference to me in terms of getting the county to invest in this when we see other taxing districts invest in this," said Urbana Democrat Chris Alix. 

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