PAXTON — Operating under the premise that no two Illinois counties are exactly alike these days, the Ford County Board will consider a resolution Monday to support reopening nonessential businesses sooner than the governor has in mind.
County board Vice Chairman Chase McCall said the resolution was drafted by fellow board members Ann Irhke and Cindy Ihrke and discussed at Thursday’s finance committee meeting but not acted on.
“I told the finance committee this on Thursday: You and I have heard time and again that we’re all in this together. We are on separate ships treading the same storm. Ford County’s ship is different from McLean County’s and Champaign County’s and Cook County’s,” he said.
“The demographics and population size are not the same from the northern part of the state to the southern part, from east to west. Local officials in Ford County, mayors and village presidents may realize that some businesses need to open, want to open. Everybody is getting anxious,” he said.
The resolution states that business owners “should be given the opportunity to re-open their businesses, should they choose to do so, under modifications to protect the health and safety of patrons, employees, and the general public.”
And they want to be able to do so without fear of local enforcement of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders.
“We feel that we are the closest to our constituents at the local level,” McCall said. “J.B. Pritzker hasn’t come to Ford County to do an assessment of our population and business practices. I appreciate his daily press conferences on COVID, but I haven’t seen him here, nor has he called us asking questions.”
Ford County State’s Attorney Andrew Killian helped draft the resolution and on Friday asked the county clerk to contact the county’s insurer to see what liability a board member or the county might have in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak if they endorse such a resolution.
“They need to know whether or not they are creating personal liability for themselves, let alone for the county,” Killian said.
As state’s attorney, he is the legal adviser to the county board.
“(The resolution) is not us saying, ‘Open up.’ It’s the county board saying we support our businesses, and the sooner they can open safely, the better for the business and the better for the economy of Ford County. We’re not saying open or don’t open,” Killian said of the resolution’s intent.
McCall and Killian said any business in Ford County that is subject to licensure by a state agency such as the liquor commission or the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation best heed the governor’s orders.
“The Illinois Attorney General’s office and the Illinois State Police have substantial resources,” Killian observed. “Even if local law enforcement decides not to enforce the governor’s orders, there are always state agencies that can.”
Meanwhile, Lana Sample, administrator of the Ford County Public Health Department, said her office had nothing to do with initiating the resolution the board plans to consider.
She and her staff will continue to follow the governor’s orders and be proactive in helping the citizens of Ford County.
“I don’t have the authority to tell them they can reopen. We’re putting together documents and guidance to provide to businesses so they can get a plan together and communicate back and forth with the health department on what their plan is when they are open,” Sample said.
“We want to make sure all our businesses within the county are taking the proper steps to mitigate the spread (of the virus),” she said.
Ford County has had 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19. One death resulted and five people remain in isolation. The other seven are no longer in quarantine. The county’s population is a little over 13,000.