Madison County ‘re-opening revolt’ fizzles

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Labor leaders call out reckless effort as politics

By CARL GREEN
Illinois Correspondent

ONLY TWO PEOPLE walked down Main Street in Edwardsville, Ill. on Wednesday, May 13, after Madison County board members agreed to reopen the county, officially going against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide stay at home order. Only a few businesses re-opened over concerns about legal liability. – Bill Greenblatt/UPI photo

Edwardsville – Madison County Board members tried to speed up the state of Illinois’ plan to re-open the local economy last week but by week’s end, their “revolt” was fizzling out.

Eleven County Board Democrats joined in voting for a Republican-led resolution, initiated by County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, to allow businesses to re-open in violation of state rules in place to fight the COVID-19 virus. But two things happened:

  • One, the board was told it had no authority to overturn the state’s plan.
  • Two, most businesses and institutions throughout the county resolutely stayed closed rather than risk loss of funding or legal issues.

The resolution was aimed at Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-part program to restore the economy while continuing to fight the spread of the virus. Pritzker had warned that he might have to deny certain state and federal funding to Madison County if officials chose to re-open early, but added that he would do so reluctantly.

Pritzker said his slower-moving plan, which would begin re-opening businesses on June 1, was based on scientific modeling data, rather than politics

“I have asked people to do the right thing, and I want to point out that the vast majority of people in Illinois have been doing the right thing,” Pritzker said. “Those people that you’re referring to are the outliers.”

Metro-East legislators and the mayors of Edwardsville, Troy, Collinsville, Alton, East Alton and Maryville urged residents to comply with Pritzker’s program. Only Highland supported Prenzler and the county board’s resolution.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association also warned their members against flouting the governor’s order.

PRENZLER COULDN’T FOLLOW HIS OWN RULES
One day after pushing through the controversial plan, Prenzler appeared to have violated his own rules.

The Board of Health had voted Tuesday, May 12, to put very specific guidelines in place, the opening paragraph of which stated: “We are asking citizens to do their part to take all necessary precautions to ensure the health, safety and well-being of everyone.”

But on Wednesday, May 13, Prenzler was photographed entering and leaving a restaurant without wearing a mask.

“Not only is this hypocrisy of the highest order, but he is intentionally putting workers and the public at risk by not following his own rules,” said B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor.

“How can the county expect businesses and residents to follow the rules to help protect workers at these businesses if the Chairman won’t?”

WOULD PUT SMALL BUSINESSES AT RISK
Randy Harris, director of the Midwest Region the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, and chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party, said Prenzler was leading county businesses down a dangerous path.

“We all understand that there must be a plan in place to help re-open Madison County and to help save small businesses, retailers and manufacturers, but this plan would ultimately endanger those same small businesses across our county,” which could lose their insurance and put their business licenses at risk by re-opening early, Harris said.

“He’s trying to avoid any legal liability for the county while still encouraging businesses to open,” Harris said. “This is politics, plain and simple.”

DISTRACTION AND CAMPAIGNING
Harris suggested Prenzler’s real goal was to distract the public’s attention from his administration’s legal problems, including two elections officials who were fired by the County Board after using their positions to reveal the votes of Democratic candidates and voters.

“This reckless plan put forward by Kurt Prenzler is entirely a political move intended to draw attention away from the ongoing corruption and lawsuits by members of his administration,” Harris said. “It is no coincidence this ‘plan’ was floated the day after the two corrupt former members of the administration sued the county following their termination over a massive political spying scandal.”

Harris also pointed out that Prenzler sent an email to political supporters before the vote was taken, seeking contributions.

“Before most County Board members, mayors or other local officials had a chance to even review it, Kurt Prenzler was sending it to his political supporters and asking for a campaign contribution,” Harris said. “I don’t know how it gets more political than that.”

Bob Daiber, the Labor-endorsed Democratic candidate for county board chairman, said he believed that Democratic board members felt rushed and pressured into a quick decision on the resolution and acted out of concern for being labeled “anti-business.”

“We all want the businesses re-opened, but it was a rushed decision –– all for people to get political credit,” Daiber said. “The county has no authority to override a governor’s executive order anyway.”

(This story includes information from the Belleville News-Democrat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other sources.)


 

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