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'This shouldn't be a partisan issue': DeKalb County officials call for state action, local control amid Region 1 mitigations

DeKALB – DeKalb County Board members are calling for more local control and more support from Illinois state government instead of continuing restaurant and bar shutdowns amig COVID-19 surge mitigations in Region 1.

DeKalb County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr., a Democrat who also represents the third district, posted a public Saturday afternoon social media post about a conversation he had with staff from Barb City Bagels in downtown DeKalb, one of the restaurants listed by the DeKalb County Health Department as non-compliant with the ban on indoor dining.

"This pandemic has been tough on a number of businesses but I encourage the public to keep going out and supporting local businesses in our community," Pietrowski wrote in the public post. "We cannot let this pandemic continue to divide us or pit neighbor against neighbor. We need the state to allow for local county control of the COVID-19 issue and drop the regions format."

On Tuesday, Pietrowski said the public needs to remember that, while the virus isn't a hoax and should be taken seriously from a health and safety standpoint, local restaurants rely on the community for support. He said a lot of business owners are local families, friends and coaches, and people need to be more understanding of how these mitigations are affecting their livelihoods.

“I just hate to see people be so polarized on these issues,” Pietrowski said.

In his social media post over the weekend, Pietrowski wrote it's time for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker to call the legislature back to vote and debate safe regulations together.

"We elect representatives and state senators for a reason," Pietrowski wrote. "The initial 30 to 60 day emergency is over and we are on month seven of the emergency and we need representation at the state level."

DeKalb County Board member Larry West, a Republican representing the county's first district, also weighed in on mitigation enforcement in a Saturday social media comment on a public Daily Chronicle social media post.

"Here is an long as any business has restrictions on it and employees and owners are not able to make ends meet, the state government should not be paid," West wrote. "This would be the governor, his cabinet and advisors, all state senate and representatives and health department. This should include county boards and health departments. Being a board member I would support this until our local businesss are safe."

In response, West was met with some criticsm, with others writing that his proposed approach would mean defunding health departments during a time of crisis.

"I never said defund anyone," West wrote back. "I said if businesses are struggling, then elected officials shouldn’t be paid. The governor who is a billionaire should be donating his salary to help businesses. If every elected official involved donated salaries, small business would be able to survive and be more willing to follow guidelines without having to close its doors and lay off more employees. It’s easy for someone collecting a paycheck provided by people’s tax money to say we are in this together when reality is they are not struggling."

On Tuesday, West said he's personally felt the effects of the economic downturn from COVID-19, since he lost his job in mid-March, when closures started happening.

“When someone tells me we’re in the same boat, we’re not really,” West said. “ … We’re not even close.”

He said he was fortunate to find another job during the pandemic and elected officials should be doing what they can to help out local businesses – even if it's all 24 County Board members donating their $85 per meeting attended pay.

West said he's serious about donating his County Board pay, even if it would be tight for him personally. He said he'd consider doing it by himself and absolutely would be open to it if others got on board.

"We really need to take care of our own here locally,” West said.

Pietrowski said Tuesday there has not yet been a resolution created for a full board vote about the call for local control and lawmakers to go back in session, for example, and only individuals in local government have reached out to the governor's office and other state officials directly. However, he said that may be considered in future full board meetings.

Ultimately, Pietrowski said, he hopes to see a more solution driven approach in getting a better grip on the pandemic and related policy going forward.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Pietrowski said.

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