Reopening Decatur to be discussed at next city council meeting
The Decatur City Council will meet on Tuesday, May 26 to discuss reopening Decatur. Among the six agenda items to be discussed at the meeting include adoption of Restore Illinois Phase 3 protocols; an ordinance authorizing the use of side streets, sidewalks, and parking areas for sale and consumption of food and beverages by restaurants; and an ordinance ending the public health emergency caused by COVID-19 at the end of June.
DECATUR SHOULD REOPEN AS SAFELY, RESPONSIBLY, AND PROMPTLY AS POSSIBLE
In my view, the city should at least temporarily ease many restrictions and fees to allow businesses to reopen and create a pathway to economic recovery. As it pertains to the ordinances being discussed, I strongly support temporarily easing restrictions on the use of some side streets (e.g., Oakwood Business District and Merchant St.), parking places, and city parks for sale and consumption of food and beverages by restaurants, and to the extent allowable under state guidelines, sale of merchandise. The city should do this while ensuring appropriate parking and pedestrian access accommodating those with special needs.
SMALL BUSINESSES ARE BEING SIGNIFICANTLY IMPACTED
The economic impact of the pandemic may be disproportionately impacting small business throughout the city. Many of our small businesses are closed while large businesses that compete with these small businesses have remained open. Many large retail businesses have not had to reduce the product lines that they are able to sell (e.g., clothing). Naturally, this has prompted questions about why some businesses have closed and others remained open, particularly when some small businesses may be in position to adhere to all health and safety guidelines. Furthermore, if shoppers decide not to stay-at-home and are purchasing non-essential items, it is reasonable to ask whether the risk is greater at locations where the density of people is greater.
WE ARE STILL IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC
Reopening the city, state, and country comes within the context of not having comprehensive testing, contact tracing, antibody testing, vaccinations, or widely available and effective treatments for COVID-19. Thus, reopening of small businesses and the broader Decatur economy, comes within the context of many customers and employees not feeling safe. If the city is going to temporarily ease restrictions, it should come with the requirement that businesses, employees, and customers follow all health and safety guidelines. Unfortunately, a small number of entities in Decatur and surrounding towns have reopened in defiance of safety guidelines possibly endangering human health and jeopardizing the region's overall recovery.
THE GLOBAL HEALTH EMERGENCY HAS INCREASED THE CITY’S CHALLENGES
The COVID-19 pandemic will increase in magnitude the challenges that the City of Decatur is already facing and accelerate the rate in which we experience these hardships. Decatur is the third fastest shrinking city in the United States with a population over 50,000. Since 2010, our population has decreased 7.1% from 76,131 in 2010 to 70,746 in 2019. Simultaneously, the city has experienced a reduction in our labor force from 32,262 in 2010 to 29,979 in 2019 (decrease of 7%). Furthermore, our poverty rate is 21.1% compared to 11.8% in U.S. (79% greater than national average) and median household income is $42,908 compared to $60,293 in U.S. (29% less than national average).
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS – If you would like to discuss an issue with a city council member, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/. More information about public comments and citizen participation is below.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE - An agenda to each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.
YOU CAN WATCH THE MEETING ON THE CITY’S WEBSITE OR GOVERNMENT CHANNEL 18 - For those that do plan to attend the meeting in person, meetings take place at the City Council Chamber located on the third floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance.
CITIZEN PARTICIPATION AT THE CITY COUNCIL MEETING WILL BE MODIFIED DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC – As per the city council packet: “Pursuant to Governor Pritzker's Executive Order 2020-07 suspending the requirements of the Illinois Open Meetings Act requiring in-person attendance by members of a public body for the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation, members of the Decatur City Council and senior staff will be participating in this meeting through a Zoom video and audio link. The Mayor and essential members of the City staff will be physically present in the City Council Chambers, and pursuant to Governor's Executive Order No. 2020-10 and CDC guidelines, no more than ten (10) people will be allowed in the City Council Chambers at any one time. ... The City Council Chambers will be open to those wishing to personally attend through the normal public entrance on the west side of the Chambers, but no more than ten (10) people may be in the chambers at any one time, social distancing rules will be observed, and audience members must sit in the rear half of the seating area to create a separation zone between public seating and the in-person city participants of the meeting. The podium for Appearance of Citizens has been moved to the rear of the chamber. Persons arriving after ten (10) people have already entered the chambers will be asked to wait in the anteroom of the City Council Chambers where they can watch the live feed and wait until a seat is made available by the departure of one or more of the ten (10) people already in the chamber. Public comments can be emailed in advance of the meeting to the City Clerk at email@example.com, and will be provided to the City Council and others requesting them. Self-produced videos of no more than three minutes that include the name and image of the speaker, will be aired if they are received by the City Clerk by 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting and conform to the council's existing rules.”