Denver City and County Building

The Denver City and County Building.

Denver City Council on Monday voted to extend the declaration of a state of emergency until May 11 in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision came in a 9-0 vote with council members Candi CdeBaca, Kevin Flynn, Debbie Ortega and Amanda Sandoval absent.

The legislation prevents Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's state of emergency declaration from expiring on March 19 and allows for any future adjustments to be made on a Monday, when the council regularly meets.

“The mayor in his executive function is allowed to declare a state of emergency, but only for seven days,” Council President Jolon Clark told Colorado Politics on Monday prior to the vote. “Any extension of that declaration has to be a legislative action approved by City Council."

The council also voted 9-0 to advance a bill that would allow for the suspension or cancellation of regular council meetings during emergency periods. The bill grants City Council the authority to cancel a meeting without first having to come together in the council chambers to determine whether there is a quorum.

But some council members, such as Amanda Sawyer and Stacie Gilmore, said the legislation doesn’t go far enough amid the current crisis.

The councilwomen both said they want to see remote participation as part of the city rules, but also said they understand the urgency of passing the legislation as is currently written.

CdeBaca, who earlier had proposed an amendment to the bill that would establish virtual meetings during an emergency and allow for public input during those meetings, said in a statement that the council “missed an opportunity to show real leadership during a public health crisis.”

By passing an ordinance that allows City Council to cancel its regular meetings, “it failed to include — or even seriously consider — a provision for virtual public meetings to be held, which would have modernized the mandate (from 1968) for only in-person meetings,” CdeBaca said on Tuesday.

According to the city charter, “The council shall meet in the Council chambers each Monday in regular session except as otherwise may be provided by ordinance.”

CdeBaca interprets that language to mean that the council has the power to enact emergency amendments to accommodate virtual meetings.

“If past laws did not originally contemplate the current circumstances, then those laws must be changed to guarantee we fulfill our core function — serving the people,” she said. “Let’s not claim to have public meetings that the public can’t actually attend — even virtually. The very purpose of declaring a state of emergency is to take necessary and even unprecedented actions in order to protect our democracy in times of crisis.”

The councilwoman pointed to city councils in Boulder and Aspen, which are also making changes to their rules to establish virtual council meetings that would allow for public input during times of emergency.   

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