River Forest government lays out gradual reopening plan

With shift to state's Phase 3, some relief measures to expire; village offices remain closed to public

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing Reporter

Unveiling a plan for reopening River Forest government was one of several actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that village officials addressed at the May 26 virtual village board meeting.

The board also decided not to extend relief provided in March to village residents and businesses dealing with the effects of steps taken by local, state and federal officials to address the spread of the pandemic.

They also voted unanimously to suspend block parties and heard a report on Shop Safe, Shop River Forest, a social media ad campaign.

In her memo to the board on the plan to reopen River Forest government, Lisa Scheiner, assistant village administrator, said the plan is organized into five phases and aligns with the governor's Restore Illinois plan. The plan is grouped into three broad categories, village facilities, public gatherings and village services.

"River Forest will continue to look at the data and guidance provided by the Illinois and Cook County departments of public health, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in identifying the steps that must be taken to reopen to the public in a manner that balances the needs of the community with the top priority of protecting public health," Scheiner added.

When River Forest joins the rest of the Northeast Region in moving from Phase 2 to Phase 3 on May 29, the public gatherings and village services categories will see changes.

In the public gatherings category, under Phase 2 guidelines, only essential meetings could be held, non-essential gatherings were not allowed and adjudication was postponed.

 Under Phase 3 guidelines, all meetings will be held, gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed and modified adjudication will be held.

In the village services category, whereas under Phase 2 guidelines limited staff were onsite and remote work and modified schedules used where needed and available, under Phase 3 guidelines, staff will be onsite and limited remote work and modified schedules will be used where needed and available.

In the public gatherings category, unchanged from Phase 2 to Phase 3, are virtual participation for meetings will be available, social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required and meetings will be held in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

In the village services category, unchanged from Phase 2 to Phase 3, village services will still continue. Contact-free transactions and service delivery will still be used for non-first responders staff and the public, work stations will still be reassigned as needed and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH)/CDC guidance for social distancing and PPE use will still be followed. 

The village facilities category will remain the same from Phase 2 to Phase 3. Village hall customer service windows will still be closed to the public, village hall lobby bins will still be available for drop-off and pickup; a virtual village hall will still be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; and the exterior drop box will still be available.

All categories will see major changes moving from Phase 3 to Phase 4, which will occur if testing is available for anyone, regardless of symptoms and if contact tracing begins within 24 hours for more than 90 percent of the cases in the region.

The state is not expected to move to Phase 4 until at least the end of June.

In the village facilities category, going from Phase 3 to Phase 4, village hall customer service windows will be open to the public within CDC/IDPH guidance from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and virtual village hall and the exterior drop box will remain available.

In the public gatherings category, going from Phase 3 to Phase 4, all meetings will be held with in-person attendance limited to 50 people and non-essential gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed. Unchanged will be use of social distancing and PPE as required by CDC/IDPH , compliance with the Open Meetings Act and holding modified adjudication.

In the village services category, going from Phase 3 to Phase 4, in-person service will be delivered following CDC/IDPH guidelines for social distancing and PPE; all staff will be on-site; and minimal remote work and modified schedules will be used where needed and available. Unchanged will be continuation of village services; contact-free transactions and service delivery methods will remain available; and workstations will still be reassigned as needed.

All categories will see more major changes moving from Phase 4 to Phase 5, which will occur if a vaccine and effective treatment are widely available or if new cases are eliminated over a sustained period of time through herd immunity or other factors.

In the village facilities category, going from Phase 4 to Phase 5, village hall customer service windows will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and Monday evening hours will be considered. Virtual village hall and the exterior drop box will remain available.

In the public gatherings category, going from Phase 4 to Phase 5, all meetings will be held with no limits on in-person attendance, public gatherings will resume without attendance limits and adjudication will be held without limits. Meetings still will be held in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

In the village services category, contact between staff and public will resume following CDC/IDPH guidelines and all staff will be on-site. Unchanged will be continuation of village services and contact-free transactions and service delivery methods will remain available.

Trustee Tom Cargie suggested that village staff members encourage residents to continue virtual interaction with the goal to eliminate face-to-face interactions when not needed.

Relief provided to residents and businesses in March suspended restrictions on hours of deliveries to businesses in the village and made various operational changes, including waiver of late fees and parking fees and extending payment deadlines without penalties and adjudication dates.

Most relief will expire on May 31 with the exceptions for business licenses and places of eating tax, which will not expire until June 30.

Trustee Erika Bachner said she wanted to know how residents are doing before ending relief and asked if unemployment data was available to help officials make the decision. However, village Administrator Eric Palm explained that unemployment data is only available for municipalities with populations more than 25,000, a threshold River Forest fails to reach.

Village President Cathy Adduci supported allowing the relief to expire, noting that relief can be reinstated if village officials determine it is needed.

In her memo to the board on block parties, Sara Phyfer, management analyst/deputy clerk, cited concern for the public's safety in large gatherings during the pandemic in recommending that block parties be suspended until the village moves into Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, when conventions, large gatherings and festivals will be permitted.

Palm also noted that managing and enforcing safety restrictions on block party attendees would be a "burden."

In his presentation to the board on the Shop Safe, Shop River Forest campaign, Jonathan Pape, assistant to the village administrator, noted that the campaign that began two weeks ago is scheduled to end May 31.

He said the campaign was created with assistance from Jasculca Terman, the village's communications consultant. The four YouTube videos, which targeted residents of River Forest, Elmwood Park, Forest Park, Maywood, Oak Park and the Galewood neighborhood of Chicago, reached more than 64,000 people.

"For its low cost, that's a very good reach," Palm said.

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