Board intends to 'send a message' to Whitmer with resolution

Commissioner: 'She needs to stop playing games and let us go'

The Lake County board of commissioners approved a Pandemic Resolution intended to "send a message" to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to lift restrictions on local businesses during its meeting last week. (Star file photo)

The Lake County board of commissioners approved a Pandemic Resolution intended to "send a message" to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to lift restrictions on local businesses during its meeting last week. (Star file photo)

BALDWIN -- The Lake County Board of Commissioners adopted an amended version of the previously discussed pandemic resolution during its recent meeting.

At a previous meeting, the board voted to table the resolution following a discussion regarding changes they would like to see made in the wording of the document.

Commissioner Len Todd said he would like the resolution to have "more teeth," and commissioners agreed, stating it should address the issue of transparency regarding separation payments to former employees and recording of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19.

New wording added to the resolution states the board "calls upon Legislature and the Governor of Michigan to exercise their co-equal authority by adopting constitutionally sound measures which restore individual responsibility and accountability… (and) support a 'full investigation into the Separation of Employment contracts and payouts of former state employee's, representatives and/or contractors, as well as a full investigation into records pertaining to the statistics in nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 Pandemic.'"

"These amendments cover the minor editorial corrections that address our concerns," Todd said.

The resolution further states the threat from the COVID-19 virus has resulted in a "loss of constitutional liberties and personal freedoms" without regard for potential abuses.

It is the belief, the resolution states, that "unnecessary burdens" have been placed on certain sectors of the economy, and the Lake County Board of Commissioners "oppose the distress and destruction continuing to impact our community," due to "overburdensome COVID-19 restrictions" (and) encourages the immediate lifting of restrictions, as surrounding states have done.

Commissioner Robert Sanders said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislature need to work together, and is all for sending that message. However, when it comes to opening things up, he is on the fence.

"I believe some of the measures that were put in place saved lives," Sanders said. "I think if we had done nothing, allowed bars and restaurants and meeting to go on as usual, we would have had many more lives lost, and people affected.

"I agree -- government can overreach," he added. "I think we are at a point where things can loosen up a bit. But government has a responsibility to set parameters to protect the public."

Todd said he is concerned that with a recent uptick in cases in the state, Whitmer will "crack down again" and that this resolution will send a message that Lake County does not want to be "beat up on" because of that.

"I think we need to send a message to the governor that she needs to stop playing games and let us go," Todd said. "We've already shown that Lake County is working through the threat. My underlying objection to what the governor is doing is that she is lumping us in with Grand Rapids, which is a much bigger community. We are doing better here, and the numbers prove it, but we're getting beat up on because the numbers down state are higher."

Patti Pacola, Lake County's clerk/register of deeds, said the reasoning behind the resolution is case numbers in Lake County have remained low throughout the pandemic. Many of the small businesses being impacted by the restrictions are not able to open even with limited capacity allowed, she said.

Commissioner Dawn Martin said many restaurants are holding off on opening up over concerns the governor or health department will impose stricter restrictions again due to the increases in cases.

"Businesses in Lake County do a good job of following the rules for cleanliness, as is seen in their inspection reports, and with the COVID-19 pandemic have been going above and beyond," Martin said.

Martin believes the local businesses are responsible and will do the right thing, without the government forcing rules on them.

"If you think about the last year, where we had a 43% increase in the number of ORV visitors and activity here, our numbers still stayed low," she said. "That attests to the business owners saying they were going to follow those parameters and those restrictions.

"I believe if the restrictions are lifted, they will continue to follow that path, because they recognize that without people visiting, that affects their bottom line, and if they are known as a "hot spot" for COVID-19, that will impact their business," she added. "I agree there needs to be parameters set, but I think business owners need to be trusted that they will do what is right, and I think most of them will."

The resolution was approved unanimously.

In other news, the board also discussed policies for conducting public meetings in the coming months, with the Open Meetings Act amendments expiring at the end of March.

Lake County Administrator Tobi Lake told the board the statute allows remote meetings through March 31, and it is not likely the legislature is going to extend it.

"To continue to meet remotely, you will need to declare a local state of emergency," Lake said. "Other than that, you can call in for health reasons and it has to be arranged in advance."

"If we are still capped on the number we can have in this room, can we still allow the public to call in?" Sanders asked.

Lake said they are limited to 25 in the commissioners meeting room, including the commissioners, so that would allow for 16 members of the public.

"We could have a link-up and move the overflow to another room," Lake said. "I will need guidance on what you want."

Martin said she thought that having a call-in option for the public is a good idea, but anything they decide on should have a deadline, at which time they can revisit it, until they get further guidance on what is allowable.

"We can have a deadline of June 1, and then revisit it if the situation has changed," Lake said. "If you want to continue to meet virtually, you can do something today, or at the April meeting."

The board will decide the matter at the upcoming meeting on April 14.

The Lake County courthouse has also reopened to the public, and appointments are no longer required.

Visitors will continue to be screened for COVID-19 at the door and will be asked to practice COVID-19 safety protocols - wearing a mask and social distancing.