The Illinois Sheriffs' Association on Thursday pushed back on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's warning that counties could face consequences if they disobey the state's stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic, calling the governor's message "outrageous" and "insulting."
"Illinois Sheriffs have been elected by their local citizens to keep their communities safe, a trust that every sheriff and sworn law enforcement officer holds dear," the organization said in a statement. "It is outrageous that the Governor is threatening retaliation against these leaders and the men and women of their offices. He is insulting heroic police officers, corrections officers and local voters.”
Multiple counties in the state have sought permission to move into the next phase of Illinois' region-by-region reopening plan early. The Kendall County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that it will no longer enforce the stay-at-home order, while downstate Madison County's Board of Health voted earlier in the week to allow businesses and places of worship to reopen in defiance of the statewide order.
Pritzker said Wednesday that several enforcement actions remain available to him to get counties to comply, including the option of withholding federal funding.
"Businesses and individual professionals that are licensed by state agencies can be held accountable for defying public health orders,” he said. “Counties that try to reopen in defiance will not be reimbursed by FEMA for damage they cause themselves. Local law enforcement and the Illinois State Police can and will take action.”
The threat of withholding federal funding is not unique to Illinois. Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said that counties that disobeyed his stay-at-home order would not receive federal stimulus funds earmarked to assist counties impacted by the coronavirus.
Pritzker said Tuesday that he would consider similar measures, and on Wednesday issued another warning to officials looking to operate their governments in defiance of protocols.
“You weren’t elected to do what is easy. You were elected to do what’s right,” he said. “I don’t have sympathy for those so intent on disregarding science and logic, so afraid to tell their communities what they don’t want to hear, that they put people’s lives at risk.”
“There is no consequence I can impose that is greater than the harm you will do to your own communities,” Pritzker said. “I don’t know how to make this more real for you. More people will get sick and die if we don’t stay the course. Be a responsible public servant. Step up and lead. Now, more than ever, your communities need you. Don’t let them down.”
The Illinois Sheriffs' Association posted its statement on Facebook Thursday, alleging that Pritzker had not consulted with sheriffs in Illinois on this matter.
"The Governor and his office have repeatedly talked about consulting organizations/groups of impacted experts on issues as they arise," the message reads. "Unfortunately, one of the groups that has never been included are the Sheriffs of this State, nor its representative organization, the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association. It is extremely frustrating to hear these continued comments in response to those that may not agree with his positions. Sheriffs were elected by their counties to keep them safe and they will continue to do so."