Naperville Park District sues governor for local ability to control reopening

 
 
Updated 5/19/2020 9:04 PM

The Naperville Park District has sued Gov. J.B. Pritzker, saying his third executive order setting stay-at-home provisions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic oversteps his authority to control local units of government.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in DuPage County court, says the governor's actions prohibiting tennis, forbidding foursomes on golf courses and closing gyms, pools and driving ranges rob the park district of its ability to decide which of its functions are "essential" and to provide necessary health and wellness services.

 

The lawsuit, "seeking to restore the balance of power and local accountability," talks up the value of recreation and physical activity in combating the stresses of isolation and health concerns.

These stresses, the lawsuit says, are causing health effects beyond contagion, including concerns about suicide, other mental health conditions, substance abuse, child abuse or domestic violence.

The lawsuit cites as evidence a May 11 email from Naperville police Chief Robert Marshall to a Naperville mental health provider reporting a 6.4% increase in domestic disturbance calls and a 27.7% increase in domestic violence calls from January through April this year compared to the same period last year.

"There is a balance to be struck between the social distancing needed to slow the spread COVID-19 and the opportunities for recreational activity needed to keep individuals healthy and combat child abuse, domestic violence, depression, substance abuse and suicide," the suit says.

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The lawsuit seeks as relief "an order declaring that the Park District has jurisdiction over its property and programs and that the Governor may not substitute his judgment for that of the duly elected officials vested with that power."

The park board voted 4-3 last week to file the suit, seeking its ability to govern its 136 parks covering more than 2,400 acres to be restored. The board wants to follow its own judgment and the guidance of relevant professional organizations in deciding when and how to reopen various recreation facilities and programs.

For example, the lawsuit says, the park district's Fort Hill Activity Center is large enough to accommodate small-group fitness activity of less than 10 people in accordance with social distancing requirements, but Pritzker's stay-at-home order prohibits gyms from opening.

The lawsuit says the district could safely operate its driving ranges by taking reservations, using fewer stalls separated by at least 6 feet and using automated ball cleansing and dispensing machines, but the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity under Pritzker requires all driving ranges to stay closed.

The lawsuit claims state statute gives local units of government like the Naperville Park District the authority to make judgments about how and when to safely reopen. It asks the court for a declaration affirming that to be true.

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