COVID-19 response complaint continued after board pursues lawyer

News

MONTICELLO, Ill. (WCIA) — Despite a court appearance by county board members earlier this week, a legal complaint that says the Piatt County Emergency Management agency has been blocked from fully responding to COVID-19 won’t be addressed again in court until mid-April.

State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades filed the complaint against the full Piatt County board on March 20, stating in it that board chair Ray Spencer had blocked the county’s ability to purchase emergency supplies — such as disinfectant and bulk hand sanitizer — and placed a “gag order” on the county’s Emergency Management Agency director, Mike Holmes, that bars communication to media.

Due to budget concerns last year, the county’s cleaning supply budge and a janitorial position that served the county building were cut, meaning county employees are expected to provide their own cleaning materials and toilet paper. Rhoades said that as early as three weeks ago, before Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a disaster declaration related to COVID-19 on March 9, attempts had been made to purchase disinfectant for county office buildings; at the time, the county credit used for such purchases was declined.

According to the complaint filed against the board last week, Spencer said that emergency spending has to stay within the EMA’s 2020 budget and has declined to raise or remove the EMA credit card allowance from its current, $2,000-limit.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Rhoades said she clarified her position on the matter to the court, saying the complaint was a request to lift the order and allow the county’s EMA to make necessary purchases; when Spencer did the same, he used the chance to speak to voice his approval of the court’s choice of attorney to represent the board.

Decatur-based Featherstun, Gaumer, Stocks, Flynn and Eck has until April 15 to respond to the court’s request that they represent the county board following the complaint.

A second hearing is slated for April 21 — three weeks from the current expiration date of Pritzker’s executive order that mandates Illinoisans stay at home (except for “essential” work and travel) to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

While there are no officially-confirmed cases of coronavirus in Piatt County, the number of cases across the state continues to rise, with neighboring Douglas County reporting its first case of COVID-19 on Thursday, while Champaign and McLean each had eight confirmed cases.

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