TOLONO — Village President Rob Murphy said Tolono is in “uncharted waters” when it comes to dealing with Lil Buford’s, a local bar and grill accused of defying county public health officials and a court order by remaining open for business without a valid health permit.
“We’re not going to close down his business,” Murphy said of Lil Buford’s and its owner, Jeffrey Buckler. “That’s not our intention.”
Murphy said he would, however, like Lil Buford’s to be nicer to health officials.
“My big concern is I don’t want anybody hurt in town, and there’s been lines drawn in the sand,” he said.
As liquor commissioner for Tolono, Murphy may be called to adjudicate violations against Lil Buford’s recently noted by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.
A commission agent conducted a complaint investigation at Lil Buford’s on Dec. 29 and observed alleged social-distancing and mask-rule violations, according to Michelle Flagg, industry education director for the commission.
The violations will be adjudicated at a later date, she said, and the hearing would be done by the local government authority with jurisdiction.
Murphy said he hasn’t seen any violations from the state liquor-control commission, though Buckler did tell him that agency had been to his establishment.
Murphy also said he’d be inclined to run any decision about Lil Buford’s by the village board.
“Pretty much the general consensus in the community is let them be open,” Murphy said of Lil Buford’s.
From what he’s observed, Murphy said, Lil Buford’s is “packed every night.”
He also is aware that other food establishments in Tolono that are complying with the state restriction forbidding indoor service are hurting, the mayor said.
Meanwhile, county State’s Attorney Julia Rietz filed a petition Monday asking Judge Ben Dyer to find Buckler in civil contempt and impose sanctions.
Dyer issued a temporary restraining order Dec. 31 prohibiting Buckler from operating a food-service establishment without a valid health permit, but Buckler has continued to keep Lil Buford’s, 102 N. Long St., open and operating, the petition states.
The Champaign County Public Health Department suspended Lil Buford’s health permit Dec. 17 for defying the state ban on indoor service, a measure intended to help control the spread of COVID-19.
The county’s petition filed on behalf of the health department states that at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31, Tolono Deputy Police Chief John Brown and health department sanitarian Raymond Mucha went to Lil Buford’s and saw patrons being served indoors, none of them wearing masks, and the “open” sign lit.
“There were at least 12 customers present. The customers at the bar were immediately next to each other. For the customers at the tables, there were less than 6 feet between the groups,” the petition states. “Two female employees were not wearing masks.”
It goes on to state Lil Buford’s social-media posts have indicated the establishment has remained open through Monday.
A post on Lil Buford’s Facebook page Monday stated: “Chicken wrap with fries today. Dine in or carry out.”
That was followed Tuesday by this post on the same Facebook page: “Taco Tuesday!!! Beef, steak or chicken. Quesadillas or burritos. Trash can nachos!!! Dine in or carry out.”
If Dyer finds Buckler in contempt of the Dec. 31 temporary restraining order, sanctions could include fines or jail until the order is followed, according to Rietz.
“At this point, the goal is compliance with the court order and then ultimately with the state restriction,” she said.
Rietz said it hadn’t been determined yet whether the petition would be heard in advance of a hearing already set for 3 p.m. Thursday — when the temporary restraining order is set to expire and a longer-lasting resolution is to be sought.
In a separate case in which health authorities suspended a permit for continuing indoor service, a settlement has been entered for Billy Bob’s, 105 E. Broadway St., Ogden.
Billy Bob’s health permit was suspended Dec. 11, but the restaurant/bar remained open.
On Dec. 31, Judge Roger Webber issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Billy Bob’s from operating without a valid health permit.
The settlement agreement states Billy Bob’s wishes to avoid further legal challenges and has agreed, along with the county health department, to a permanent injunction order.
Terms include Billy Bob’s agreeing to a re-inspection, submitting a written plan to operate under current county ordinance and state COVID-19 mitigation restrictions and paying a $50 fee for the reinstatement of its health permit.
Jim Roberts, environmental health director for the county health department, said Billy Bob’s was scheduled to be reinspected Wednesday morning.