Effingham County board members on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution to support reopening Illinois.
The resolution endorses and recommends the “Back to Business” plan proposed by State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, to be presented to the Illinois General Assembly and Senate. Wilhour’s plan is in three-phases, as opposed to the five-phase plan created by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reopen Illinois.
“By passing this resolution we are letting people know the will of the county,” Effingham County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said. “We are doing this to let businesses know we are not an enforcement agency.”
“If a business opens up, they do so at their own peril,” Jim Niemann warned. “The county board has no authority to enforce the governor’s order. It’s always been up to the business whether they open or not. It’s between them and the state.”
During his daily briefing on Wednesday, Pritzker was more emphatic.
“The small minority of businesses that choose to ignore the medical doctors and the data and to ignore your legal obligation to the residents of your communities, there will be consequences,” Pritzker said. “Businesses and individual professionals that are licensed by state agencies will be held accountable for breaching public health orders. Counties that try to reopen in defiance may not be reimbursed by FEMA for damages they caused because they ignored the law.”
Niemann said any business that decide to open should check with their liability insurance.
“I am hopeful that enough pressure from downstate can let the Governor know we have plenty of medical capability here to handle people in our area,” Niemann said about the resolution and “Back to Business” plan.
Niemann said the COVID-19 pandemic is something he never thought would happen in his lifetime.
“It’s a difficult position we are in and I never guessed we would be in this position,” Niemann said. “Ever.”
“All this says is if a business chooses to open,” Niemann said. “We are hopeful they would follow the phased reopening plan.”
“We have to keep an eye on any increase in COVID-19 cases,” Niemann said. “We are watching places like Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri and Indiana that have opened already and watching their numbers.”
“Counties that try to reopen in defiance, may not be reimbursed by FEMA for damages they caused because they ignored the law?” Pritzker said. “Local law enforcement and the ISP can and will take action.”
“I’m hopeful we can get this to Springfield to move on this in the next day or so,” Niemann said. “So we can all be on the same piece of music.”
“This recommendation goes to the state on behalf of the people of Effingham County,” Niemann said about the resolution. “The plan is what we are asking the state to adopt.”
Niemann said that is why the plan is going to the Governor and General Assembly.
“If they don’t hear from us, then it’s up to our representatives,” Niemann said. “We add some volume to our state representative’s voices.”
Three men from Altamont stood outside of the Effingham County Building on North Fourth Street Wednesday in a show of support for the plan and the county board’s endorsement of it.
Charlie Pagel and Jim Mayhaus held up black and white signs with large lettering: “Pritzker sucks the life out of Illinois and small businesses.” Pagel and Mayhaus, along with Terry Plowman, lauded the county board for passing the resolution in support of Wilhour’s plan.
“I’m very grateful. It’s what we need,” Plowman said. “We need to try get back to some kind of normalcy. We need to allow the working class to go back to work to provide for everybody. It’s not just the grocery stores and Walmarts that we need. We need all of this stuff. We need to downtown to open up. We need life back to as close to normal as we can get it.”
The three men said that small, locally owned businesses have been hurt the most by the governor’s extended stay-at-home order, and each said they know several people who own businesses and have been directly affected.
Mayhaus said some business owners he knows will not be able to open back up because they have been shuttered for so long.
“The sad part about it is there are some small businesses and people that I know personally that their businesses won’t reopen. They were small enough that they didn’t get the funding,” Mayhaus said. “That’s the saddest part about all this is they’ve lost business.”
Pagel said to those who have any fear of reopening, if those individuals are scared, they can stay home.
Pagel said that Wilhour’s plan still has elements to keep citizens safe all while restoring normalcy and the Illinois economy.
“Wilhour ... is going to have social distancing. They’re going to have everything in proper order,” Pagel said. “We’ve had fewer coronavirus cases around here, and we want to see the small businesses open up because a lot of them are going to lose it in the next couple of months.”
“(With) the governor, it might be election time until he opens up,” Pagel added. “I think he’s a crook. That’s my personal opinion. We’re trying to get all the small businesses to open up and get to our regular life.”