Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard says the city will “stay the course” when it comes to current COVID-19 mitigations that take effect Sunday. Ezard says that Jacksonville has not been writing tickets or enforcing rules to shut down businesses since the pandemic began.
He says currently the city has no way of enforcing the rules with the local police department and it would simply be unable to do so with the current amount of officers on each shift: “I feel like we need to stay consistent and stay the course like we did last time [there was a shutdown.] If people recall, last time police did not go into businesses and shut them down. These other mayors did last time and they are kind of walking it back and they might have changed their mind. Last time, unless a business had an issue with someone and called the police to help them, that was the only time we sent police in. Unless the city council unanimously or there is a strong appeal to change that thinking, we will consider that but yeah, I disagree with closing restaurants and bars. I think maybe limiting capacity might have made more sense, but I don’t want to see any small businesses shut down. We have already been ahead of this.”
Ezard says that people need to continue to follow the local ordinances, rules, and requests from businesses of wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands. He says that the issue is a public health matter and not a criminal one: “I’m not pulling liquor licenses. I’m not doing anything. I can’t speak for the Morgan County Health Department and the county with how they are going to approach this if they are going to enforce it but we are going to stay the course like we did last time.”
Ezard says that he has not had conversations with Morgan County Health Department Administrator Dale Bainter and Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll about enforcement of Tier 1 mitigations being imposed in the region or any possible repurcussions. Ezard says it comes down to a lack of an ability to enforce their rules: “We don’t have the manpower in our police force to enforce people wearing masks. We have 4 or 5 on duty at a time. We cannot sit at a business waiting to see if people wear masks. Businesses have every right to do so [when it comes to enforcement]. If they feel that they don’t want folks coming into their business, then they can say that you can’t enter. If there is people that don’t like that and there is a confrontation, then they can feel free to call the police and we will help them. Obviously, if we see people blatantly having large parties, or bands at bars, or receptions and things where there is a lot of people; of course we are going to ask them to stop. As mayor, I will continue to protect the health and safety of our community, but at the same time, I will protect the rights of the citizens and businesses. That’s been my approach all along.”
Ezard says he is taking the virus seriously because he has had friends and relatives who have had the virus and has had some relatives die from it. He believes if anyone is uncomfortable going out to businesses in Jacksonville, he recommends they protect themselves or possibly stay home.
Ezard says he respects the Governor’s office and the tough decisions he has had to make during the course of the pandemic. Ezard says he does not envy the tough decisions Governor Pritzker has had to make based on his own experiences working in the office of former Governor Jim Edgar. He hopes Governor Pritzker’s decisions haven’t been political in nature: “This is Central Illinois, and it’s a little bit different where we live as opposed to up in the Chicagoland area. I think people, for the most part, respect each other here and will do the right thing. If I was sitting in his seat, there are things that I would have done different. I don’t know if there is anything specifically I can point to, because I’m not as privy to the health statistics but I do know that many of them are skewed. And is it political? I hope not. I have a good rapport with many state agencies, and if they choose to enforce the mitigations in our community, that is on them. I can’t dictate if the State Police come in and start shutting things down or if the county decides to go that road. As far as right now, the City of Jacksonville Police Department isn’t going to do that.”
Ezard says he disagrees with the governor’s assessment that a stance by a mayor on the enforcement, or lack of enforcement of the mitigations shows a lack of leadership: “It’s just a tough time. Any way you cut it, you are not going to please everyone. If the Governor feels like that is a lack of leadership, then I disagree with him because the mayors of this state know the pulse of their communities. I feel like I know the pulse of ours, and we will just stay the course.”
Ezard says that he has received several calls from many people from around the state and within Morgan County and Jacksonville on whether he would follow Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder and Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore’s decisions to not follow what has been deemed a heavy-handed approach to closing down indoor dining and bar service throughout the region. Ezard says that Jacksonville has always followed their own local efforts under the guidance of local officials. The extra mitigations go into effect Sunday at 12:01AM.