With only nine of 13 members present for the second week in a row, Denver City Council met Monday night as the novel coronavirus loomed large, affecting not only the items on the council’s agenda, but even what members wore and the way they sat.
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca donned a handmade mask. Councilwomen Kendra Black and Stacie Gilmore sat on benches typically reserved for members of the public.
And in a meeting that, unusually, ran less than 25 minutes, the council passed in a 9-0 vote a new emergency rule that allows members to participate in council meetings virtually, rather than in the council chamber, should the need arise amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (Council members Chris Hinds, Debbie Ortega, Amanda Sandoval and Amanda Sawyer were absent.)
The new policy will take effect upon the signature of Mayor Michael Hancock and run until May 11, when the city’s state of emergency declaration expires.
The rule will apply to weekly council meetings, council committee meetings, and city boards and commissions meetings. The rule continues to allow community members to access meetings on TV and online, as well as attend them in person.
They don’t apply to public hearings, however, many of which have been postponed until mid-May due to public gathering restrictions.
The city on Monday evening also advanced a bill filed by the Hancock administration that would transfer $10 million from the city’s general fund to create a “Coronavirus Emergency Response Special Revenue Fund.”
The new pot of money, expected to pass after the bill’s second reading next week, will help fund services and supplies, such as deep cleaning and personal protective equipment; personnel services, including overtime; and capital purchases, such as extra beds and even new facilities.
As per existing city rules, any expenditures above a half-million dollars require approval from the council.
Julie Smith, spokeswoman for Denver’s Department of Finance, said that further actions are "likely to be necessary,” depending on how long the COVID-19 outbreak lasts.
The city also advanced another bill filed by the Hancock administration that would set aside $4 million for business owners hardest hit by the coronavirus. The mayor announced the emergency relief fund in a press conference last week.
The bill moves $2 million from contingency and $1.5 million from the Business Investment Fund to create a new fund for business support at a total of $3.5 million.
Smith said the remaining $500,000 will come from funds already budgeted for business support, mainly the Denver microloan program, as well as from redistributed money from other areas within the Denver Office of Economic Development.