State of emergency reinstated at special meeting

Mayor says move is symbolic as well as practical

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By Maria Maxham

The declared state of emergency was reinstated in Forest Park on May 18 during a special village council meeting. The declaration is good until the next village council meeting on May 26, at which time it will be voted on again if deemed necessary by the mayor.

Commissioner Dan Novak was unable to attend the remotely held ZOOM meeting and was excused due to a prior commitment. The vote was unanimous, with Mayor Rory Hoskins and Commissioners Joe Byrnes, Ryan Nero and Jessica Voogd voting in favor of the declaration.

The first few minutes of the meeting were unavailable for public viewing due to the meeting not being broadcast immediately.

"I think it would be wise for this council to discuss whether or not we want to continue operating under a declaration of emergency," said Hoskins early in the meeting.

The vote followed fairly heavy discussion about what the declaration meant and why it was necessary. During the meeting, Hoskins made it clear that the emergency state is important for both practical and symbolic reasons.

From a practical point of view, said Hoskins, it grants the mayor authority to make emergency expenditures without village council approval, in the event of a serious event that requires a nimbleness and speed not possible if a quorum must first be reached.

For example, money might be spent on assistance measures for small businesses, which, said Hoskins, are "hemorrhaging" right now.

Additionally, said Hoskins, the emergency declaration gives more bite to the village authorizing cease and desist notices, if necessary, to businesses not complying with mask-wearing regulations.

"It allows us to enforce guidelines on local businesses if they are noncompliant," said Hoskins during the meeting. "I'd like us to have a basis for issuing cease and desist letters… to any groups in violation of social distancing protocols."

But the message the emergency declaration sends to the village is also important, said Hoskins.

"This is about the signal we send to the community," the mayor said. "We are not at normal." He mentioned calls to the village about local deaths and the 108 cases of COVID-19 in the community, a number that has risen by more than 20 in a week.

"We don't want to send the message that everything is back to normal," said Hoskins.

Voogd showed support of the declaration especially, she said, in light of the technical issues that caused the special meeting to be held in the first place, coupled with the fact that one commissioner couldn't make it.

"It worries me that if we need to call a special meeting of all the commissioners, we can't all make it, and a decision needs to be made. I would then be more inclined to continue the state of emergency until we're at least in that phase 4 range [of the state of Illinois' Reopen Illinois plan]."

Byrnes also supported the declaration. "We don't know what might arise tomorrow," he said. "It's sensible to keep this thing going."

Nero, however, questioned what types of expenditures could come up that would require the mayor to use executive power again. Referencing a phone call he'd had with Hoskins, he said they'd talked about possible needs for emergency spending, and he was confused about what that might be, since masks had already been ordered for first responders.

"We talked about a few different items: PPE, temperature guns, things like that," said Nero. "My impression was that for the next few weeks or the foreseeable future, based on that [phone] conversation, there wasn't anything you could see that we were going to need that we couldn't decide as a council."

Nero also questioned the need to look at sanitizing equipment for first responders and village property, something both Byrnes and Hoskins brought up, as emergency purchases.

"You have to be thinking at some point that there's going to be a new normal, and the cleanliness and disinfecting is going to have to be part of our regular operations," said Nero. "At some point, it's going to be a budgeted item and part of our normal business. So help me connect the dots here, because otherwise then we're always going to be under a state of emergency. Because we're never going to be not disinfecting."

Hoskins said, "We'd like to believe that everything is going to return to normal pretty soon." But he added that we are only in the second phase of Governor J. B. Pritzker's plan to reopen the state.

"We may send the message that everything is back to normal, and I think that might be a little irresponsible on our part," Hoskins said.

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