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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Renner: Licenses of Bars Violating COVID Rules Safe, For Now

Tari Renner speaks
Joe Deacon
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner announced Friday none of the 12 bars cited for violating Gov. JB Pritzker's latest COVID-19 order will lose their liquor licenses.

The liquor licenses of 12 Bloomington bars recently cited for violating the governor’s emergency orders banning indoor service are safe, for now.

Mayor Tari Renner announced the decision Friday at a special meeting of the city’s liquor commission.

Renner said when city staff reached out to the owners of the establishments, several said they were confused about whether the city would be enforcing the latest COVID-related restrictions.

Daddio’s did agree to pay a $500 fine after a citation related to mask-wearing, according to legal representation for the city and Daddio’s.

However, Renner said going forward, the city will enforce the state order by suspending or banning liquor licenses at businesses found in violation of the ban.

Renner called the measure the city’s “primary tool for enforcement.”

“In many ways, that’s unfortunate,” he continued, noting only violators with liquor licenses would face potential action.

Attorney Tom DeVore said he represents one of the 12 businesses. He told Renner if the city tries to suspend or remove his client’s liquor license, the client will appeal to the state’s liquor control commission.

“And when they appeal to the state commission, they’re going to be reinstated under their liquor license at the state level and will operate for weeks and months while that appeal process is pending,” he said.

“I ask you to seriously consider,” he continued, “do you want the people of your community sitting in a controlled environment where masks are being worn, social distancing is being you want your citizens there, or do you want them sitting inside each other’s homes congregating?”

A reataurant with diners
Credit Charlie Schlenker / WGLT
Rob Dob's restaurant in Bloomington had a healthy indoor crowd of diners Friday night.

Just a few hours after the Liquor Commission meeting began, one of the restaurants DeVore has consulted with was doing a healthy indoor business. Rob Dob's on Hershey Road in Bloomington had more than 70 vehicles in its parking lot around 6:30 p.m. 

Owner Bob Dobski declined an interview with WGLT and then volunteered that it might be the last night open for a while because the pressure to conform with the rules was getting too much. Dobski said he was waiting to talk with DeVore before addressing restaurant staff.

State’s attorney

During the liquor commission meeting, Renner said McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp is partly to blame for the county’s nationally ranked COVID-19 surge, accusing him of stopping the McLean County Health Department from using its powers of enforcement.

“They’ve basically been castrated,” Renner said. “You cannot make decisions, if you are a state’s attorney, based on your extreme partisan and extreme ideological views. You’ve got to make decisions based upon what’s best for your community.”

cars in a retaurant parking lot
Credit Charlie Schlenker / WGLT
More than 70 vehicles were in the parking lot of Rob Dob's restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Friday, days after an indoor dining ban went into effect as part of state COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Knapp said his office has spoken with businesses, and at least one student housing complex, about compliance issues at the request of the health department.

Knapp has argued the precise language of various state laws leaves open only narrow lanes for enforcement. He said he’s resisted appeals from both extremes—those who want him to go after anyone caught in public without a mask, and those who want him to promise never to enforce any COVID rule.

“Our statements aren’t meant to be coy or evasive. They are meant to be precise,” Knapp told WGLT earlier this week. “Whether it is a traffic ticket, capital murder or attempting to control COVID, when we file documents in court asking the court to exercise its authority to do anything, we must be incredibly specific as to what specific authoritative text the person or business we’re seeking to hold accountable has violated.”

State law does provide a path for a business to be closed over public health concerns. And the Illinois Administrative Code does open the door for a business to face misdemeanor criminal liability if certain conditions are met. Knapp laid out those options in a Nov. 4 memo.

And, the McLean County Health Department says it has no authority, on its own, to close or fine businesses for non-compliance with the state’s guidelines or proclamations.

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