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Tuscola announces cancellation of Sparks in the Park

By Kendra Hennis 
The meeting of the Tuscola City Council was called to order at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 11. 

The first order of business was the reading of submitted public comments. The council noted that due to the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, only written comments were accepted for Public Comment at this time. If you have a comment for the council,  it can be emailed to prior to the meeting. The City Council requests that these comments be kept brief as they will be read aloud during the Public Comment portion of the meeting. 

The first comment came from Margie Carter who said “Tuscola City Council, as a parent of two passionate swimmers on the Tuscola Torpedoes swim team, it is devastating that we will likely not have a season this summer. While I fully understand the risks of COVID-19 and my family is doing our best to follow guidelines, it is hard to explain to our young children why their sport seasons are being cancelled. Especially when we are having trouble understanding it ourselves. That said, I feel an informed public would be more comfortable with our elected officials’ decisions, even when they are not the answers we hoped for. Yes, opening the swimming pool on schedule is not an option, June 1 seems very unlikely. However, as a family that invests in a season pass and makes trips to the pool at 7 p.m. even when 20 minutes is all we get to swim, I know that even a month and a half of pool time this summer would be a much needed moral boost for this community. Is there a reason why this decision has to be made now? Can the city postpone the opening of the swimming pool, revisiting the possibility every meeting? Is it maintenance, lifeguard training requirements, management requirements? If there are certain requirements that make it impossible physically or fiscally to move the pool opening date back, I would like those to explain to my children instead of just another “because of sickness” reason.”

The next comment came from Crystal Dixon who said to the board, “Good morning. I saw the post on Facebook about cancelling Sparks in the Park and closing the pool for the summer. And while I understand why, I think it is important to consider possibly postponing these things. The kids in our community deserve to have some normal summer fun if it does become possible. Maybe Sparks in the Park can be celebrated in a social-distancing way? Fireworks can still be watched from houses and in the country. If not at all possible, it would be nice to have an explanation. I hope it is considered, thank you.”

Kristi Townsend then wrote to the board on the subject of the swimming pool, that, “Perhaps instead of shutting it down for the summer we be creative about how to open it. Maybe later than June, no concession stand, limited number of swimmers, distance the chairs and less families, showers not available, come in and swim and then leave. Perhaps if it is busy, put a time limit on swimming and let others attend next session. If sunlight, heat, and humidity kill this virus then the concrete should be fine. Perhaps have private swim lessons available.”

The final comment came from Janet Dukeman who said, “I would like to place my opinion on Sparks in the Park. Our country was founded on freedoms, we celebrate Independence Day in remembrance of what our ancestors fought and died for. Canceling these events is like rubbing their face in the grave that their lives meant nothing, because at this point we have lost all of our freedoms that they gave their lives for.” 

After approving the consent agenda, the board moved to the reports of the offices. 

Mayor Dan Kleiss was the only one with a report. He reported that the board had received a thank-you from the Cruzans following the council’s donation to the Douglas County Animal Shelter in the honor of Betty Cruzan. He noted that their prayers are with Danny Cruzan and his family for the loss of his mother. 

He then followed with a note about the car cruises in Tuscola. He reported that the idea began as a good idea to get people out of their homes, but the last couple of weeks it has gone beyond cars just cruising around town at a reasonable speed and has now been “a little much.” Kleiss noted that he expressed his displeasure with Chief Hastings who assured him that he would be paying closer attention to that. Kleiss said that, “the idea of a car cruise is a nice little cruise around town, not a drag strip around town.” And that, “We sure don’t mind people getting out and about but it needs to be in a very responsible manner.”

The board then moved to approve a contract with Specialized Construction for sanitary sewer repairs on Progress Boulevard in the amount of $27,450. This construction was necessary because the existing line had a sag and needed to be repaired. This is a repair to an existing City of Tuscola sanitary sewer line. Specialized Construction served as the contractor on site and it was then also approved by the city’s engineer. 

The board also approved an agreement with M.E. Simpson for leak detection services in the amount of $7,350. This approval is in reference to the water leaks in the existing water lines that have been discussed in meetings prior. They hope to detect and repair the leaks now before things continue to get worse. 

The board then moved to the discussion of the closure of the swimming pool for the summer. Mayor Kleiss said that the board has considered most of the public comments, with the exception of swimming in sections. He said that part of the issue is that we are very behind in getting the pool ready to open for the summer. There have not even been lifeguards solicited to begin the positions. Kleiss also noted that given the current executive order, even in Phase 4, which we are not expected to enter until June 27 at the earliest, the largest group of people allowed would be fifty people. He noted that he has talked to multiple people in counties throughout the midwest and southern Illinois and that they are also not looking at opening their pools yet. Kleiss then noted that there is already an existing staffing problem in mid-August (with many of the students going off to school). He said that he doesn’t like it (not opening the pool) any more than anyone else.

He then opened up comments to the board. Phyllis Truitt commented that  “I don’t think that anyone is going to like it if we don’t open the pool. But, I don’t see a way that we can do it that makes it cost effective. I know the kids are going to want it, but just the planning and the getting it ready- we can’t even do that really without breaking the regulations put in place.” 

City Administrator Drew Hoel also commented that even with things moving forward, that social distancing guidelines will still be in effect and that it would be very difficult to open the pool and enforce that. Opening the pool is a $10,000 to $12,000 investment that takes a lot of time and money to get operating. 

There was also a comment from Alta Long about lifeguard certifications. All lifeguards at the pool must have their certifications before being able to work, and most of these places are not currently operating. 

Mike Morris asked if there would be a problem with the equipment sitting idle for two years. Hoel responded that this would not be a problem since it normally sits in the winter anyway.

The board considered their options of waiting a few more weeks to decide, with the hopes that things may change. However, they noted that the decision would need to be made quickly since there is a lot of time and money going into opening the pool. The board ultimately decided to table the issue until the next meeting, but still said that it was very unlikely that the pool would open.

They then moved onto the issue of the cancellation of Sparks in the Park. Kleiss noted that at this time, the only thing that has been done for the event was a deposit on some fireworks and that the credits could be used next year. Kleiss said they have considered the options of holding the event a different way, but that the event could in no way be done with people in the park. He presented different issues with trying to close the park, and the fact that all of the surrounding areas have cancelled their events. If Tuscola continues with the event, he fears that the town will be flooded with people who are now gathering when they are not supposed to. 

Hoel said that there was no way at this time that Tuscola could continue with Sparks in the Park at its current capacity. He said that it would be important for us to take serious consideration to crowd and traffic control. 

Truitt then said that, “I just don’t see how it could work. There are a certain group of people sadly who don’t follow rules. We can have every good intention in the world and I can just see it as an enforcement nightmare.” 

Morris also made a comment that continuing with the event would put even those setting off the fireworks at risk. 

Truitt then made a motion to cancel the event, which passed with a majority agreement. 

Following, Kleiss made reference to the Douglas County Health Department’s release to the public, that is available on the County’s Facebook page and website. He also noted that the Illinois Municipal League has also sent a letter to the governor about the possibility of him looking at reshaping some of the regulations. At this time, there are many talks going on trying to help the situation. He said that, “the best thing to do right now is practice good hygiene, wash your hands, stay home if you’re not feeling well, and social distance when you’re going out.”

The council ended sending their condolences to the family of Joe Victor. Kleiss noted that there was a very nice service for Victor on Saturday, with social distancing guidelines observed. He said that “Joe will be dearly missed, he’s done a lot for the community over the last 40 years. He  dedicated his life to public service, he’s done a fantastic job for our community, and he will be dearly missed. We thank him and send our condolences to his family.” 

The board also:

* Approved the minutes from the April 13 regular board meeting. 

* Approved the payment of bills in the amount of $280,028.16. 

* Approved the final debt service payment for the 2010 MFT Bond. 

* Adjourned until the May 26 board meeting at 7:30 p.m.

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