Lake County Board emergency declaration will be revisited May 1

An emergency declaration allowing Lake County Board Chairwoman Sandy Hart and some nonelected county officials to sign contracts and make decisions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic without board approval will stand at least through the end of April.

During a meeting held remotely Tuesday morning and broadcast on the county's website, board members informally agreed that the declaration should fall in line with Gov. J.B. Pritzker's statewide emergency declaration and stay-at-home order, which expire April 30.

Board members also informally agreed to meet May 1 to consider extending the declaration for as long as Pritzker extend's the statewide emergency.

The county declaration had been set to expire May 4.

Under state law, emergency declarations let local officials coordinate resources and suspend certain normal procedures concerning government business to ensure the public's health and safety.

In addition to allowing decisions to be made without board approval, the Lake County declaration enables officials to apply for state and federal emergency funds.

Previous county declarations have followed damaging thunderstorms, floods and other natural disasters.

Hart, a Lake Bluff Democrat, issued an initial seven-day emergency declaration March 13 at the start of the health crisis in Illinois. Three days later, with the pandemic worsening, the board voted to extend the declaration 45 days until May 4.

Many suburban leaders have issues similar declarations.

During Tuesday's discussion, Hart said she hasn't yet used the powers granted her by the order for any reason. Afterward, Hart said aligning with the state declaration allows county employees to concentrate on fighting the virus and helping residents.

"We can be certain that funding and other resources can flow to Lake County without worrying that our emergency declaration dates don't match up," she said.

No board members opposed Tuesday's plan to revisit the issue May 1. That wasn't the case when the board voted March 13 to extend the declaration.

At that meeting, Republican Michael Danforth of Fox River Grove objected to giving Hart certain powers through the declaration, including the ability to seize private property and ban the sale of alcohol and firearms.

Danforth suggested a 30-day cap on the emergency powers, which led to Round Lake Beach Republican Dick Barr proposing, arguing for and then withdrawing amendments that would shorten the duration of the declaration.

Both Danforth and Barr were silent during the discussion Tuesday.

Afterward, Danforth said he remains concerned about potential governmental overreach.

"Because we have the authority presently to vote on potential emergency matters as they occur ... I don't believe it is necessary to vest these powers in any one individual," he said.

Barr, however, has softened on the issue. He expressed relief that Hart has not used the powers and praised county staffers for effectively communicating with board members during the crisis.

"As long as I feel there is complete transparency, fluid communication and no deprivation of rights, I will support the emergency declaration for short periods at a time," Barr said.

Also Tuesday, the Lake County Forest Preserve District board, which consists of the same 21 members as the county board, designated four officials to conduct day-to-day operations, spend money and take other action to deal with pandemic-related matters.

Unlike Hart, forest board President Angelo Kyle doesn't have the power under state law to declare an emergency.

Kyle, Frank, Rummel and Executive Director Ty Kovach got the nod.

• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.

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