More resources for EMA the goal

The Piatt County State's Attorney says the county board has not given its emergency management agency the resources to do its job – especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – and has asked the courts to remedy that situation.

Dana Rhoades on Thursday filed a complaint asking for a judge to order the county to better fund the EMA, whose funding was held steady in this year's budget.

“The 2020 part-time operational budget for the PCEMA does not include any provisions for extraordinary needs, such as those required in an emergency, including COVID-19, such as cleaning and disinfectant supplies and custodial services for the Piatt County Office Building,” said one portion of the complaint.

The county budget eliminated a part-time custodian for that building for the fiscal year that began on Dec. 1.

The complaint also says that County Board Chairman Ray Spencer told EMA Director Mike Holmes “that whatever COVID-19 supplies were needed, the Director must stay within his 2020 part-time operational budget.”

It also accuses the county of not funding mandated supplies for the EMA, including EPA-approved personal protective equipment, as well as purchase of needed mass notification communications systems, “which would allow for the immediate notification of all citizens” in the county without requiring in-person contact.

The complaint also alleges that, despite being ready on March 13, Spencer has yet to sign the county's emergency operations plan that was due to the state on March 15.

It's the latest chapter of contention between the state's attorney's office and the county board that date to last fall, which resulted in several staff reductions, including in the state's attorney's office. In addition, a Piatt County grand jury earlier this year indicted Spencer on forgery and official misconduct charges.

Rhoades is asking the court to direct the county board “to comply with the Illinois Emergency Management Act and the Piatt County Ordinance, and appropriately fund the operations budget of the PCEMA, to thus enable the PCEMA Director, to perform his professional/legal responsibilities and for such other relief as the Court deems appropriate.”

A second count in the complaint asks for injunctive relief regarding a “gag order” it said was imposed on Holmes by Spencer.

Noting that it is “imperative that the PCEMA Director be able to communicate information, updates, warnings to the public,” that count asks the courts to “vacate the direction of the County Board Chairman that prohibits the PCEMA Director to function as a spokesperson for the County pertaining to emergency matters, and to thus enable the PCEMA Director, to perform his professional/legal responsibilities and for such other relief as the Court deems appropriate.”