Councilman wants to 'set Elgin free' from COVID-19 restrictions; others rebuke him

  • Councilman Toby Shaw urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to act to "set Elgin free, open Illinois," triggering a heated rebuke from most of his colleagues Wednesday.

    Councilman Toby Shaw urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to act to "set Elgin free, open Illinois," triggering a heated rebuke from most of his colleagues Wednesday.

 
 
Updated 5/29/2020 7:25 PM

An Elgin councilman urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to act to "set Elgin free, open Illinois," triggering a heated rebuke from most of his colleagues.

Councilman Toby Shaw asked for a discussion at the council meeting Wednesday about the governor's COVID-19 executive orders and "Restore Illinois" plan. He was among council members who returned to the council chambers after the dais was outfitted with plexiglass dividers. Others attended via phone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We can both protect and accommodate the vulnerable while not sacrificing everything else we value," he said. "Never before have I witnessed the arbitrary governance that we are currently experiencing."

Shaw said it's "unfathomable" that churches would continue to be shut down, "insulting" to allow restaurants to (only) serve in open spaces when they pay property taxes, and "absurd" to close local businesses but allow big-box retail stores to stay open.

Other council members acknowledged the devastating health, economic and societal consequences of the pandemic but took exception to Shaw's comments in a 40-minute discussion.

"Talking about how this is unnecessary and calling it 'arbitrary government' is just beyond what I can accept," said Councilman John Steffen, adding he's been self-isolating with his elderly father who has health issues. "You can't bargain with or make a deal with the virus. The virus is going to affect us. It's something you can't just turn off with personal responsibility or belief in God."

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Elgin had 1,891 cases of COVID-19, and Illinois had nearly 116,000 as of Thursday.

"We have to be thoughtful about how we interact with other human beings, because we are putting ourselves and we are putting other human beings at risk," Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said.

Councilman Baldemar Lopez said he knows people who've died of the virus or are on a ventilator. "We have to make sure we don't weaponize common sense," he said.

Councilman Corey Dixon said he's concerned about his wife and child, who have asthma.

"For you to use rhetoric that exemplifies your political position ... to me, it's just sad," he said.

Municipalities cannot reopen against state's orders, Councilwoman Tish Powell said. She also took issue with people who invoke civil rights when objecting to wearing face masks. A true violation of civil rights, she said, is the death of George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Councilwoman Rose Martinez, who said her 86-year-old mother lives with her, said the only way to get through the pandemic is by working together.

"People don't like to be told what to do ... but my God, if something happens, they want the government, the state and the city to do something about it," she said.

Councilman Terry Gavin was the only one to agree with Shaw, saying Elgin, along with the state and the country, needs to open as quickly as possible "with precautions."

Mayor David Kaptain said these are unprecedented times. "The idea is that we should all give a little bit for the greater good," he said.

Shaw said Thursday that for weeks, he'd been asking Kaptain and City Manager Rick Kozal to place the discussion on the agenda. Shaw said he had hoped to be able to ask questions to city staff members about the impact of the pandemic and the shutdown but wasn't given a chance before the mayor ended the discussion, he said.

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