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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle vetoes ‘extraordinarily bad’ plan to share coronavirus-positive addresses with first responders, a first in her tenure

Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Alice Yin

In the first veto of her administration, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday moved to block a resolution to share addresses of COVID-19 individuals with 911 dispatchers, the latest blow to a controversial practice at the center of a debate on protecting first responders at the cost of individuals’ civil liberties.

Cook County Board members narrowly approved the resolution, which only applies to suburban Cook County, last week following a heated discussion about the effects of the measure on black and Latino communities. While the resolution was only a recommendation, the Cook County Department of Public Health had said it will follow the address-sharing practice because of Preckwinkle’s instructions.

Then in a reversal on Tuesday, Preckwinkle issued a veto, which requires three-fifths of the board’s vote to override. But since the resolution only passed with a 9-7 vote last week, it is likely killed.

“That's terrible public policy,” Preckwinkle said in a Tuesday interview. “I can't remember anything in the course of the last 10 years that I felt strongly enough to veto. … The idea that in the midst of this pandemic, we would pursue a course of action, which I think it's extraordinarily bad public policy, was not something I was willing to accept.”

During a call with reporters Thursday, Preckwinkle had taken a lighter stance, saying the Cook County Department of Public Health will comply because “this is a legislative process, and I respect that legislative process.”

Commissioner Scott Britton, D-Glenview, who introduced the resolution, said he will let the veto stand.

“While I am disappointed the president vetoed, the president and I want to protect our first responders and we will work together on making sure they have all the (personal protective equipment) they need going forward,” Britton wrote in a Tuesday statement.

Britton said last week the limits of the resolution, which expires in 60 days and only shares addresses, not names, will ensure there will be no government overreach. CCDPH co-administrator Dr. Rachel Rubin retorted the resolution could backfire, as there are scores of residents who may have not sought testing because they are asymptomatic.

Rubin echoed Preckwinkle’s ire for the resolution Tuesday, adding she was blindsided that nine commissioners approved it.

“I wasn't quite sure what to expect,” Rubin said. “I was surprised at the vote and very disappointed.”

In her veto announcement, Preckwinkle reiterated her points made last week when she said she was “profoundly disappointed” the resolution passed because she believed it would contribute to the systemic racism that black and Latino communities suffer.

Preckwinkle also said the resolution violates people’s privacy, harking back to the stigma of the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as the ongoing fears that immigrants living in the country without legal permission face when it comes to interactions with law enforcement. The potential for first responders to harass individuals and other concerns may lead to less testing as well, Preckwinkle said.

“I cannot support the release of this information and am wholly disappointed in the decision to dispute the opinions of our public health experts, including the advice provided by CCDPH’s medical expert, Dr. Rachel Rubin,” Preckwinkle wrote in her veto memo.

Although commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, voted yes, he said Tuesday he accepts that the resolution is defeated. Now, Suffredin said, he has to focus on the dearth of PPE that he and other commissioners cited when talking about the need for providing addresses to first responders.

“It is what it is,” Suffredin said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t fight battles that you can’t win. You deal with what you can do to help make people safer. This will stand.”

Preckwinkle defended the county’s distribution of PPE on Tuesday, saying the Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security’s Emergency Operations Center has been passing out supplies to suburban first responders from the beginning. But she said President Donald Trump’s administration has hampered those efforts.

“As a result of not just the pandemic, which is a catastrophe, but the chaotic and inept and — I’m running out of adjectives — response of the federal government has been really disturbing and has I’m sure contributed to the magnitude of the crisis that we face,” Preckwinkle said.

The resolution also drew admonishment from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who said commissioners “voted to capitulate to ignorance and bigotry” in a tweet last week promising the city would never follow suit.

Today, to my great astonishment and disappointment, nine members of the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to capitulate to ignorance and bigotry by voting to force the disclosure of the addresses of every patient who has tested positive for COVID-19.

1,764 people are talking about this

Much of the last week’s board meeting’s public comment section centered around the address-sharing resolution, with suburban villages, police departments and fire departments urging the practice amid PPE shortages, and dozens of individuals and civil rights groups, including the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, saying it would lead to harm.

“We laud Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s veto today — elevating long-term public health concerns over a short-term false sense of security,” ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell said in a statement. “By creating lists of those who test positive to share with law enforcement and other first responders, the county may have discouraged many in Cook County from seeking testing and treatment. This fear will be especially pronounced in communities of color.”

Riverside police Chief Tom Weitzel said he was “shocked” at the veto because he feels address-sharing is necessary given past PPE shortages — a nightmare he fears will return without a vaccine available. Although the department now has safe reserves of PPE, Weitzel once had to borrow from the Riverside Fire Department, he said. “She made this big swipe across all law enforcement,” Weitzel said about Preckwinkle’s remarks that law enforcement may abuse the data. “This veto is the first in her history as long as she’s been president, and that speaks volumes.” The emotional toll of responding to a known coronavirus location is also heftier than the public realizes, Weitzel said, and any information can help prepare officers. “Most police officers would rather respond to an armed robbery or a barricade situation because they trained and they know what’s in front of them,” Weitzel said. “This situation is a virus you can’t see, you can’t smell. You don’t know if it’s there.” However, there is still a possibility that address-sharing supporters could see victory in the courts. Although a northwest suburban 911 dispatch system failed in its bid to force Cook County to share addresses of coronavirus patients after a judge denied its temporary restraining order, the village of Lincolnwood was granted a motion to intervene. The judge set another hearing for early June. ayin@chicagotribune.com

 

 



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