By Dermot Connolly
The Orland Park Village Board formally adopted a “Back to Normal” plan Monday night to provide guidance for residents and business owners as stay-at-home orders and other state mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.
“We’ve had the plan out there for a while, posted on our website,” said Mayor Keith Pekau, noting that the document has been updated several times since April.
The document, which he said draws on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and other experts, was created in response to Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, which the mayor and several trustees maintain is too slow and unreasonable.
There are some similarities to both plans, which have a phased approach to reopening. Orland Park’s plan is as follows: Phase One—Recovery (equivalent to Restore Illinois Phase 3); Phase Two—Revitalization (equivalent to Restore Illinois Phase 4); Phase Three—Normal Operations (equivalent to Restore Illinois Phase 5); and a Monitoring Phase, in which progress is monitored and social distancing measures are implemented if COVID-19 positive testing rates or hospitalizations spike up.
The main difference between the two plans, and the principle reason the Village Board gave for recently filing suit against Pritzker to lift his mandates, is that under the Orland Park version, progress is moved from one phase to the next if the COVID-19 rates remain stable for two weeks. The state version requires rates to remain level for four weeks.
Also, Pekau and other Pritzker opponents argue that it makes returning to normalcy nearly impossible by requiring a vaccine or eradication of the virus.
“The rationale for putting this on here (to be voted on now), is that the latest order by the judge downstate voided all of the governor’s executive orders, and he did not request a stay,” said Pekau.
“It is now important that we provide guidance. It is guidance, not a mandate, because we don’t think we can constitutionally mandate anything,” he said.
In the Clay County case, a man filed suit against Pritzker to have the stay-at-home orders lifted. Originally, a judge lifted them just for that individual, but village attorney Dennis Walsh said that on July 2, the judge found that all mandates taken by Pritzker after the first 30 days of the pandemic in March were unconstitutional.
Trustee Kathy Fenton questioned why Pritzker’s order to wear facemasks in Illinois was found to be unconstitutional, but a similar decree by the governor of Texas was not.
“It is unfortunate that the wearing of cloth masks has become the latest attempt to divide people and create a political issue,” said Pekau.
He said that businesses can ask customers to wear masks and those who don’t want to can stay away. But he asserted that the CDC was advising social distance and frequent hand-washing as the best ways to avoid COVID-19, rather than relying on masks.
“I would advise you to start there,” said the mayor, who strictly enforced social distancing at the meeting Monday night. He stopped proceedings several times to clear the room of people standing or sitting on the floor, rather than in one of the carefully spaced chairs. The number of chairs in the board room has been greatly reduced.
Trustee Dan Calandriello cast the only vote against the plan, arguing that the fact that it would be voted on was not added to the agenda early enough. He said it was a violation of the Open Meetings Act, and board members didn’t have time to review the 60-page document.
However, village attorney Dennis Walsh said that legally, he found no conflict with the Open Meetings Act. Calandriello’s request to postpone a vote until the next meeting was also voted down.
“Doing so would leave us without a plan,” said Pekau.
“I would like to encourage everyone on Orland Park to read this document (available on the village website at orlandpark.org). Every step toward normalcy is good, as long as we do it thoughtfully,” said Trustee Jim Dodge.
When the floor was opened to public comment, nine residents spoke out stridently against Pekau and the board members who voted to reopen and hold concerts and other summer events, as well as the lawsuit against Pritzker, which many said could cost the village hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One woman singled out Pekau, saying he refused to wear a mask when he came into the Starbuck’s where she worked. The mayor recalled the incident and got her to acknowledge that he did put a mask on when requested.
“Yes, but you rolled your eyes,” said the woman, claiming that the mayor and board were not concerned with the welfare of front-line employees such as herself.
Two residents spoke in favor of the moves to reopen the village and hold summer events, one of whom insisted she would never wear a facemask.
Afterward, Pekau said he had no plans to drop the lawsuit, as residents requested, although Pritzker’s mandates have apparently been lifted.
“I don’t know why we would. We already spent the money,” he said. The mayor said the judge was expected to issue a ruling last Thursday but did not.
“That makes me think she feels there is some merit to it.”
He said the lawsuit in Clay County and Orland Park’s are not exactly the same.
“We have different issues,” he said.