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As people all over America and the world grapple with the short-term and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, so too is the Village of Mokena.
Village Administrator John Tomasoski shared some of what the Village staff and elected officials have been doing in March as more and more orders have come in from the state and federal government to try to flatten the curve of the infection rate.
Tomasoski said that at the Village Board work session that took place on March 16, items that normally would have been discussed were put to the side in favor of getting updates on COVID-19. Since then, the Village Board and staff have continually been working to address the effect the pandemic has had on Mokena.
“The goal for us was to put our employees in a safe position, but also to regularly address the concerns of our residents and businesses,” Tomasoski said. “We knew it was going to be a very unique time for all of us.”
In an effort to help businesses impacted by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order, Tomasoski said staff and the mayor’s office have tried to be proactive in its communication to the local businesses – starting with informing restaurants about temporary allowances regarding liquor license restrictions. This included allowing the restaurants and bars that were still doing carryout to be able to sell packaged beer or wine.
“You could buy a can of beer, but you couldn’t buy it opened,” Tomasoski explained.
The mayor’s office communicated that by sending a letter out to those businesses. Later, Village staff visited with the businesses to let them know in-person.
Staff also worked with the Mokena Chamber of Commerce to create a list of restaurants and bars that were staying open throughout the pandemic to offer carryout, delivery or curbside pickup.
“It was always important to shop Mokena, but it was never more important than right now to support our local businessmen and businesswomen who have always been there for us,” Tomasoski said.
He also said the Village is gathering information on ways it can further help residents and businesses.
“What we don’t want to do is overreact or react too quickly and not fully understand the magnitude of what the pandemic is going to do,” he said.
But he added that staff is evaluating state and federal legislation that has been passed recently as a way to help residents and businesses.
From an operations standpoint, Tomasoski said the staff has taken great pride in the services they have been able to continue to offer the residents.
“We are here – Village hall is open,” he said. “We have social distanced ourselves in the Village hall and all Village departments by taking the correct steps.”
Those steps included teleconferences when possible, having different lunch and break schedules for staff working in the buildings, and taking separate vehicles for any tasks. He also said staff have encouraged residents and businesses to do things online if possible. But for those who cannot, the staff have put a drop box for payments to be placed in outside of the building and a receptacle that larger items, such as blueprints for architectural projects, can be placed in.
Overall, Tomasoski said the staff has continued to put in great work for the Village.
“It certainly does not surprise me, but the Village staff, the management team [and] all the employees have stepped up in unique ways,” he said.
Tomasoski also complimented the residents and businesses of Mokena for how they have handled a challenging situation.
“They have done a great job,” he said. “As is typical of the community as I’ve come to know it, people have rallied to the occasion. To that point, we haven’t had any major or severe issues with our residents or businesses from a perspective of trying to best manage the situation during this time period.”
Mayor Frank Fleischer echoed that sentiment, complimenting how Mokena has adapted to sheltering in place.
“I’m very impressed with the way the residents and businesses have policed themselves with this,” Fleischer said. “There was very little that we had to tell them to do. They have paid attention to the governor, and they have paid attention to the president and his task force. I’m very impressed with how the village has taken care of things on their own.”
The mayor also said he was happy that residents continued to shop local by utilizing the restaurants in town for delivery, takeout or curbside pickup.
“Just keep doing what you are doing,” Fleischer said. “Understand that if you have to go out of the house, just go out and do things that are of an emergency type reason or something that has to be done. Stay away from people when you get out there. Wash your hands.
“I think all of us are going through something we’ve never gone through before. Personally, I think all of the governors and the president are doing one hell of a job. If people just listen to the people in those positions in their particular state are saying, everything is going to be fine. We are going to get through this. I do not think this is going to be something that keeps us down.”
Fleischer also hopes there will be some lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And the next time it happens – and it will happen again – we are going to be a little better prepared for it,” he said.