Coal City adopts fines for businesses ignoring state order

Ann Gill

Violations of emergency orders issued by the state and village are now punishable by local ordinance.
The Coal City Village Board amended the town code by adopting emergency enforcement actions for breaches of executive orders and disaster declarations issued by the governor of Illinois, village president (mayor) and Illinois Department of Public Health or public health authorities with jurisdiction over the village.
Members of the village’s Public Health and Safety Committee first addressed the proposal during a committee meeting on May 4. The new code was unanimously approved by village trustees on May 13.
In response to the global health pandemic, Illinois’ governor has issued over 30 executive orders and, by law, the village is directed to enforce the orders. Within those orders local police are provided with the option of arresting an offender for defying the requirements of the order.
“This option is a heavy- handed one,” said Matt Fritz, the village’s administrator.
One of the things the board has struggled with, and likely other municipal boards, is how to best handle violations, according to Mayor Terry Halliday.
“We have an executive order from the Governor that neither myself or these trustees that sit with me have any authority to override. That’s just the fact, period. The Governor’s executive order is the authority, but at the same time many of us here understand the situation, especially in a small town where small businesses are critical,” Halliday said.
“We need to tread the line, we can’t just walk away from the executive order and at the same time we don’t want to hurt our businesses or anybody else that might be going against the EO,” the mayor continued.
The idea behind the ordinance is to provide a lower level penalty than arrest.
“I think the village is kind of stuck in the middle here and we are really trying to thread that needle, what is responsible to maintain law within the village, but yet be something in the long term. We’ve made investments for our businesses and we want our businesses to thrive. I don’t think this ordinance would be before you if we didn’t see it as kind of a customer service step to provide something better opposed to the option of arrest in response to breaking some sort of emergency order,” Fritz said.
“Possessing a locally adjudicated municipal infraction provides a more accurate level of punishment than requiring someone to be arrested and prosecuted on criminal charges at a later date,” the administrator added.
The addition to the code will stay enforceable for whenever a similar emergency may exist. It is not just a one-time response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Fritz said.
Should someone refuse to comply with a verbal or written warning by law enforcement officials, the ordinance allows for a fine or steeper action.
“Certainly this is something that we don’t plan on using very often, but it gives the chief and his officers and the village another tool that hopefully will at least let people know that unfortunately the executive order is what it is and we need to continue to try to adhere to it. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try to change that executive order, so we have more authority and jurisdiction in opening up our own towns,” Halliday said.
Violations, should they be issued, come as village citations of no less than $75 and no more than $750.
The code took effect upon passage and Fritz said businesses have been informed it was being adopted.
As a small business owner, Trustee Sarah Beach said that by having rules in place, it might help a business owner decide if opening and defying the executive order is worth the penalty.
“It’s not going to work for every business owner but this template helps those business owners that are on the fence trying to decide whether or not they should open. It will help them make that decision and those that are dedicated to opening it’s not going to matter what rules we put in place. They are going to go that route. But having all the options and having everything there allows the businesses to do their own risk assessment to the situation, how much they are willing to risk and is it a bigger risk to pay the fine to the village or is it a bigger risk to not open the doors. Unfortunately its very gray and it’s very personal,” Beach said.