Two Jacksonville Business Owners Express Frustration With City Council Over Face Covering Requirements

By Benjamin Cox on August 25, 2020 at 11:30am

Two local business owners voiced concerns at the Jacksonville City Council meeting last night about a lack of enforcement on face mask usage in town.

Our Town Books owner Jessica Gale said during the meeting that she was disappointed in what she saw was a lack of leadership by the city on the importance of wearing masks and social distancing in public. Gale also said that she had seen several local restaurants were not reinforcing the idea on workers at drive-thrus and in dine-in options, where she believes it is easiest to spread COVID-19 in the community.

Gale specifically mentioned an August 8th headline in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier taking aim at Mayor Andy Ezard for being hesitant on establishing a mask ordinance. Gale said that the issue isn’t a political one, but a public health issue that needs to be addressed by city leadership.

Serious Lip Balm Owner Khara Koffel said that due to the past shutdown by the state, her business had to hamper operations due to the partnership with Elm City Center for production and manufacture of their products. Elm City had to close their operations during the state-ordered quarantine. Koffel warned that if state mitigations happened locally, she would be forced to shutter her business in Jacksonville and move elsewhere to continue her business. Koffel also warned the council that the county was currently over 7% for its rolling positivity rate. At 8%, the Illinois Department of Public Health can trigger mitigations locally and force some sectors of business to shutter and force local quarantines under state emergency rules.

Ezard says there’s more that goes into just writing an ordinance on the issue: “I’m very respectful for the folks who came and gave public comment tonight and expressed their opinions on what they’ve been seeing. I think Police Chief [Adam] Mefford did a good job explaining that there is more to it than just writing an ordinance; and then, arresting or writing a citation [to someone] and that we are limited in our resources as far as staffing. The businesses in town have a right if someone is not wearing a mask to tell them to please leave, and if they don’t or they resist – that’s the time to call the police. I certainly understand both sides, but right now, if the city council feels that there needs to be an ordinance written, then they need to bring that up. We heard from a few of them tonight but they really didn’t say that there really needed to be one written at this time, so we are just going to keep going at the same pace that we have. Hopefully everybody will do the right thing and we will move forward through this.”

Police Chief Adam Mefford explained that the Morgan County Health Department has the enforcement mechanism to cite businesses for failing to enforce the rule. Morgan County Emergency Management Coordinator Phil McCarty told the council that official letters have begun to be sent to local businesses that have had complaints filed against them for a lack of face mask compliance. Mefford was also concerned about his department having enough manpower to enforce a citywide mask ordinance as well as space and procedural issues at the Morgan County Jail for booking those who could possibly be arrested under such an ordinance.

Gale said that she and Koffel weren’t asking for an ordinance but a statement from the city’s leadership on masks as well as a request to levy fines against non-compliant businesses. McCarty says that more healthcare options and testing are in the works for the city once logistics and funding are worked through with hospital administration, the health department, and state government.