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Illinois lawmakers upset after the state's National Guard spends the night, and money, in Iowa

Members of the Guard spent the night in Iowa, before returning to Illinois for vaccination clinics. Now Illinois lawmakers asking why they didn't stay in-state.

SAVANNA, Ill. — Some Illinois lawmakers are upset with their state's National Guard, after members were seen staying at a hotel in Iowa, while on a mission in Illinois. 

The guardsmen and women were seen leaving a hotel in Le Claire, Iowa, on April 1. They were headed up to Byron, Illinois, for a vaccination clinic after running a separate clinic in Chadwick, Illinois the day before. 

According to the National Guard, the money used to book that hotel room came from the federal government, allocated out to Illinois through the CARES Act. 

But State Representative Tony McCombie (R), argues that members of Illinois' National Guard should spend the money on Illinois hotels and restaurants - especially since the state has been more closed than Iowa, during the pandemic. 

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"They are in Stephenson County day before yesterday, Carroll County yesterday, Byron today. So, I don't understand why not just stay in Freeport or why not just stay in Savanna," she asked. "We have been shut down by executive orders and now we're not even gonna spend tax payer money in our communities? It's not right. It's just not right." 

Representative McCombie also pointed out that the gas stations and restaurants around the hotel also would have benefited from over 30 rooms being filled with guards members. 

"You have to walk the walk and here we're passing bills that we have to use Illinois labor, we have to pay Illinois prevailing wage, we have to use Illinois manufactures, we have to go through our procurement processes for Illinois, but then we go spend our money in Iowa," she said. "It just kind of blew my mind." 

State Representative Mike Halpin (D) agreed, saying the work the Guard has been doing throughout the state, with their vaccination efforts, has been commendable, but the local businesses need to be thought of. 

"We should be able to provide for them here on the Illinois side of the river. It's definitely something to look into - we should be able to take care of them the best we can right here in Illinois," he said. 

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But LTC Brad Leighton, Director of Public Affairs for the Illinois National Guard, says the decision was made by troop leaders on the ground, who felt it was the best move for their team. 

"We leave those decisions with those non-commissioned officers," he said. "Those troops are on what's called per diem - so the money they're spending is federal government money and they're given a certain amount of allowance to choose where they lodge." 

After speaking with state lawmakers on Thursday, the Guard said they would be revisiting the issue, and sending out a memorandum encouraging all troops to lodge within Illinois' borders. 

"We don’t really wanna take the bat out of the hands of the young officers and non-commissioned officers, as they’re making decisions that they feel are best for their particular teams. But we will encourage that they lodge on the Illinois side of the river," said LTC Leighton. "We have over 1,400 troops that are supporting immunization sites throughout the state. The vast majority of them are using businesses on the Illinois side of the river. This just happened to be a couple teams that that noncommissioned officer made the decision to use a hotel on the Iowa side." 

But for some local hotel owners, the move is frustrating, and comes a day too-late. 

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"It was an opportunity that was missed and I think was hurtful for our area," said Christine Sullivan, General Manager of the Savanna Inn & Suites in Savanna, Illinois. 

The inn had 92 open rooms on the night of March 31 - more than double what the Guard needed that evening. And, it's located just 20 minutes away from the clinic the members had been working at in Chadwick, Illinois. 

"The most frustrating part is we were not given the opportunity to say 'hey, we do have the availability,'" said Sullivan. "We could house as many as they need and we just weren't given the opportunity. We didn't receive any phone calls and not a soul even came in and inquired about our property and how many rooms we had available." 

She says it's been rough going for the past year. Executive orders and a steep decline in travelers have made keeping the lights on extremely difficult. 

"It's been really hard on everyone, especially the staff. Obviously having a low occupancy and not having the revenue coming in, you're having to lay people off," she said. 

Sullivan estimates that if the troops would have stayed with her for even one night, it would have made around $1,900 for her business. 

"I'm not a political person, but I think they need to do a little more research into making sure opportunities like that aren't missed," she said. "It would have given my housekeepers some hours to bring in a little bit more money. Our eateries in town would have benefitted from that, and everybody in the community. Especially right now, a lot of Illinois hotels don't have the funds for advertising."

Editors Note: an earlier version of this story has been corrected to reflect the number of Illinois Guardsmen and women delivering vaccines throughout the state, after information given by LTC Brad Leighton was corrected.

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