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East Peoria Council Supports "Go-It-Alone" Approach To Phased Reopening

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
The East Peoria Civic Complex Building, which houses the city hall and Fondulac Library.

The entire East Peoria City Council said it supports Mayor John Kahl's decision to buck Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order and begin reopening businesses last week.The "Tri-County Phased Reopening Plan" was endorsed by 21 elected officials in Central Illinois, but only enacted by East Peoria. It allows gyms, salons, and other businesses to begin reopening despite the governor's continuing stay-at-home order, with additional restrictions lifted every 15 days through July.

Commissioner Mark Hill, who was present at Kahl's Friday press conference announcing the reopening, defended the lack of "medical metrics" in the plan that Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and others said prevented them from signing on.

"One of the plans was never not to encourage the non-pharmaceutical measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing. Those are in the plan," Hill said. "So based on the science measures, we were going to continue following the measurements that we've been following for seven weeks."

Hill said any one of East Peoria's phases could be deferred or stopped if metrics from the local health departments show it's needed.

"It's not a free-for-all in the city of East Peoria," said Hill.

Commissioner Dan Decker said a phased reopening approach is better than reopening everything at once or remaining limited to only essential services.

"The thing that bugs me the most about this, is that politics are being played. I don't care about left, right, center. It doesn't matter," he said. "We all just need to work together to find a solution, and I'm glad we're working toward one."

Commissioner Seth Mingus said it's an issue there will likely never be a consensus on, but he thinks East Peoria took the right approach.

"I think it's a balance, and I think a balance in the state of Illinois is what we need. We are not Chicago, and I think people need to realize there are two different areas in the state of Illinois," Mingus said. "And there always have been, let's face it. Let's be honest. Chicago has always been a little different than downstate, and this is no different."

Commissioner Mike Sutherland said he doesn't understand why Pritzker wasn't "throwed in prison" for the leaked 2008 phone call with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

"My feeling is this. I don't trust him. And his problems up in Chicago are Chicago's problems. They should look at us completely different down here," said Sutherland.

Pritzker said it's up to local officials to enforce the order, but he did say last week it's fortunate the Peoria area has expanded testing and hospital capacity, since ignoring the order would lead to "a lot of people" getting sick.

For his part, Kahl said East Peoria was alone on Friday in deciding to reopen, but isn't now.

"The support of that decision has been overwhelming from areas of Chicago to the tip of southern Illinois," the mayor said. "So I think a lot of what you're going to see over the course of the next week is a lot of people stepping out and speaking up."

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