The Denver City Council canceled its weekly legislative meeting, a spokeswoman from the council's main office confirmed on the phone early Monday afternoon.
The council's sudden decision comes one week after its meeting was stormed by protesters demanding police defunding and racial justice.
"With the spread of COVID-19 on the rise once again, and out of concern for the health and safety of the public, City staff and Council members, tonight’s Denver City Council meeting has been canceled," Stacy Simonet, the council's communications director, stated in a press release an hour after Colorado Politics broke the story.
Last week, Denver Mayor Hancock held a press conference to announce that Denver's COVID-19 positivity rate is "stabilizing and staying low" at a level of 3% and "hospitalizations continue to trend downward."
"The number of speakers signing up for Council’s general public comment session that starts at 5 p.m. is drawing larger crowds each week," Simonet said. "In addition, three required public hearings were on the agenda for tonight, also expected to draw in many members of the public. To ensure the health and welfare of everyone involved, Council decided to cancel the meeting.
"Council has committed to fast-track a virtual public participation process. In addition, council will be scheduling a series of virtual listening sessions. Details for how virtual public participation will move forward will be released as soon as possible," her statement continued. "Hearing from constituents during a time of pandemic and historic civil rights movement is a high priority for members of Denver City Council."
During an operations meeting Monday, council members discussed how to prevent council chambers from being overrun again later that night to ensure that everyone, including protesters, were kept safe from violence and from the coronavirus. Last week, protesters packed the meeting room and did not abide by social distancing guidelines, although all wore masks, as is required to enter the City and County Building.
In the meeting, which was filmed by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s chief of staff Lisa Calderon, council members agreed that important city business needed to be carried out Monday night and that having sheriffs guard the doors of chambers could help ensure it got done.
However, many council members clashed with CdeBaca when it came down to controlling where the sea of protesters should go – whether that be in the hallway or in council’s “overflow” rooms. The council's social distancing guidelines limit the number of people allowed in council chambers.
CdeBaca argued that anyone in chambers who feels unsafe can go to the overflow room but that protesters willing to risk their own safety should be allowed in the room. The more control exerted upon protesters, she said, the less peaceful the outcome will be.
Several council members, including CdeBaca, Amanda Sawyer and Robin Kniech, were in favor of keeping the meeting on the books and upset that there was not a vote among members on whether to hold the meeting.
Sawyer tweeted that, if possible, she had planned to vote in favor of holding the meeting. Following the decision, she wrote that she was "so frustrated" because the charter change proposal she and CdeBaca brought forth, which would require council's approval of 14 mayoral appointments, was supposed to be on final reading. Now it will be delayed.
"Does 'shutting council down' help the cause?" Kniech tweeted after the decision was made. "The bill to give council confirmation over future police, sheriff appointees is on the agenda tonight," she wrote, referring to Sawyer and CdeBaca's legislation. Kniech also said that her charter amendment "to allow us to make mid-year budget proposals (illegal now) is on too. Preventing passage prevents new tools to act."
Council members' seats on the dais have been equipped with personal protective equipment, including plastic shields, and are also separated from where the public sits. Councilman Chris Hinds pointed out that he still was not ensured a 6-foot distance from protesters last week, since there were so many in the room at one time.
The Monday operations meeting was public but not televised, nor did it appear online on the Denver City Council’s meeting calendar.
Simonet and Denver City Council President Jolon Clark did not immediately respond to Colorado Politics' requests for comment.
Earlier Monday, Denverite reported that people planned to storm the council’s meeting again this evening. Last week’s demonstration was organized in part by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Denverite reported that tonight's planned protest would be led by the Afro Liberation Front.
This story is developing and will be updated.