Inaction or overreaction? We’re heading toward an unhappy ending here

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Roy Webb and Gary Farha

There are times when a State’s Attorney has discretion in enforcing laws. School districts also have discretion as to who they allow into their buildings for certain reasons.

Quincy and Adams County are suffering because of both of these facts. Adams County Public Health Administrator Jerrod Welch has done what he has thought is right in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic in attempting to implement Governor JB Pritzker’s orders. This is not an easy or popular task.

But Welch needs an attorney because his legal counsel has chosen to stand down. Adams County States Attorney Gary Farha and First Assistant States Attorney Todd Eyler clearly want nothing to do with COVID-19 cases.

By deciding not to act, Farha and Eyler decided to trump Welch’s decision.  

Farha says he doesn’t have enough help, but is it that or is it because his personal discretion does not allow the States Attorney to determine the wisdom of those laws or ignore those that they might not like? Adams County Lead Trial Attorney Josh Jones began down the path of enforcing the Health Department’s orders, but he was shouted down on social media and he eventually stood down. To clarify, he works for Farha.

The whiff of politics is in the air on this. Let’s hope that air doesn’t have COVID droplets.

Among the “worst kept secrets in Adams County” genre, Farha is more than likely (read: not) running for re-election and Eyler is more than likely running to replace him as State’s Attorney (read: Eyler has his track shoes on).

This week, Eyler spoke before a large gathering of people at the Holiday Inn who wanted to show support for the people who chose to challenge the Quincy School District as they attempted to quarantine students after the Health Department’s order expired. They pleaded their case and won. Eyler very clearly said he was “speaking as a private citizen and attorney” and he also said he had been giving counsel (on his own time) to people who were looking for help who wanted to oppose COVID-related orders.

After reading a story on Muddy River News regarding Eyler’s comments, a lawyer formerly with the Adams County State’s Attorney’s office called me and said “You’re never off the clock when you work for the State’s Attorney.”

So if the folks running the SA’s office are too busy or too conflicted, why not a special prosecutor? Farha uses this option frequently in cases where he feels he has a conflict. He did so during the Curtis Lovelace trial, where Lovelace was eventually found not guilty in a Sangamon County court following a change of venue.

Welch’s bosses are the Adams County Board of Health and the Adams County Board. Where are they on this? Do they have Welch’s back as he looks for support in this case? With Farha and Adams County Board Chairman Kent Snider being BFF’s, this was probably a rhetorical question.

Farha could ask the County Board for more money to hire someone.  He could have asked for help from the Attorney General’s office. Because of the vacancy of the attorney who handled the juvenile docket (why he says he’s shorthanded), Farha now has money in his budget to hire someone else to work on this. Adams County is getting around $13 million in sweet, sweet COVID cash. I’ll go out on a limb and say this more of a COVID-related expense than some other items the County will end up spending it on.

As unpopular as it may seem in many corners of the county, Welch is doing his job. It’s harder when public officials who should work with him disregard their obligations to back those efforts.

Now, let’s look at that job.

Welch has issued nearly 300 quarantine orders regarding Quincy Public School students. These orders are good for 48 hours and are to be followed by a court petition to extend the order for up to ten days where parents will not voluntarily quarantine their child.

What consists of a person needing to be quarantined appears to pretty broad.

A healthy vaccinated student with zero symptoms (yet still wearing a mask) named Bartholomew Gough (made up name, although I wanted to name a kid that. Bart Simpson killed that idea) shows up at Quincy High School because, while he was at work Sunday and couldn’t go to Grandma’s, his cousin tested positive. And since Mom, Dad and Bart’s sister Muffy Gough (again, made up name) had Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, Bart can’t go to school and has to miss the soccer game against QND? Yeah, the cousin with the positive test needs to stay home, but poor Bart has to stay off the pitch? He didn’t even get Grandma’s fried chicken!

I might not be the best person to ask because I had a healthy VACCINATED child who always wears a mask, but was not allowed to participate in a QHS performance because of some weak-ass contact tracing/follow the dots reasoning. And also, we had no QHS musical last year, but we had basketball. Sorry. End of rant.

So Webb has outed Farha’s unwillingness to act on social media. His reasoning is Farha’s inaction not only jeopardizes the district’s ability to comply with Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order, but potentially places students and staff at risk. The state’s teacher’s unions support the governor’s actions.

Wait? What? State unions supporting a Democratic Governor?

Surprising, right? #sarcasmfont

But you have about half of the teachers ready to walk because they don’t want to be told to get vaccinated and the other half mad because of Judge Debra Wellborn’s ruling for the families who challenged the school district’s ability to quarantine on their own. Teachers have talked of a “sick out” to protest. They are the ones who are sick and tired of being sick and tired, but many are also legitimately out with positive COVID tests.

Webb and other school officials face the unenviable situation of conflicting directives and are trying to hold a fractured school district together. Some districts have responded by going remote and suspending fall sports, clearly an undesirable option. Yet, that appears to be the road we are headed down.

There are reports, in fact, that Governor Pritzker may bypass the local officials – and local control – and order remote learning statewide. A repeat of remote learning and an absence of contact with other students simply is not what most parents and students want. And yes, that means football, volleyball and soccer season could also be done statewide, although QHS Volleyball apparently can’t cross the Maginot Line into Missouri.

Let’s be clear that there is no love locally of how Governor Pritzker has handled the response to COVID-19 and played politics. There are doubts about the need and nature of the Governor’s edicts. Still, few of us have been untouched by COVID-19 even having relatives and friends succumb to the virus. My friend, Bill Adam, father of my longtime friend (and Muddy River News Editor) David Adam, passed away this week from COVID-19. Yes, he was 78 and I know one of the arguments is kids are “more resilient” and “not as vulnerable” to COVID, but do you really want to risk your child passing COVID on to your mother or father?

I know the “local control” folks are going to scream, but it is probably time for the State’s Attorney’s office to bring in some help in the form of a Special Prosecutor. Farha and Eyler can no longer act like Pontius Pilate in this situation, although Pilate’s hand washing would probably be appreciated in today’s COVID-impacted world.

J. Robert Gough is the Publisher/GM of Muddy River News.

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