It was a meeting unlike any other for Englewood City Council on March 17. Englewood Mayor Linda Olson called the meeting to order with councilmembers around her outdoors — in the upper-level parking lot on the south side of the Englewood Civic Center.
Councilmembers Cheryl Wink, Othoniel Sierra and Rita Russell opted to participate in the meeting while seated in their respective cars. Residents could watch, but only from a distance as a few Englewood police officers, along with cones and barricades, blocked them from getting too close to councilmembers.
COVID-19's impact is being felt around the world, and it forced Englewood to be innovative in its approach toward what might be council's final in person meeting for a while.
Englewood City Council passed an emergency declaration and an emergency preparedness/city council meeting participation policy at the March 17 outdoor meeting. The meeting lasted a little over 20 minutes and saw both ordinances pass unanimously.
The emergency declaration's intent is to provide the necessary organization, powers and authority to enable city resources to prepare for the public health emergency around COVID-19 — the technical name of the novel coronavirus illness spreading around the planet. The declaration allows Englewood City Manager Shawn Lewis to close city buildings, an event that took place on March 17; for city staff to work from home; and for funds to be reallocated to critical needs as the emergency unfolds.
The declaration would also allow the city manager to order nonessential businesses to close with Englewood City Council approval and for the city to accept services, grants, loans and other materials from private, nonprofit or government sources.
“Our biggest challenge is to maintain coordination and cooperation with the state, Arapahoe County, our Tri-County Health Department, our business community and our residents to ensure that we understand resources available and the needs of our community,” said Lewis. The Tri-County Health Department covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
Englewood businesses will be able to receive government assistance under the declaration as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis ordered the closure of dine-in services at restaurants, gyms, casinos, theaters, cigar bars, brewpubs, distillery pubs and coffeehouses on March 16. The Colorado Department of Public Health issued a public health order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people on March 18.
The federal Small Business Administration is working with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by COVID-19, according to the association's website.
Englewood City Councilmember Joe Anderson said it is a relief to have passed the emergency ordinance, but added that he is concerned for restaurants, bars and other social gathering places that have been forced to close due to the virus.
“I think it is going to hurt them in the short run, especially the smaller, new restaurants. We have a lot of new growing restaurants in Englewood,” said Anderson. “I just hope everyone can figure out a way to go out to any of those places that are offering carry-out or delivery.”
Why was the meeting outside?
Englewood City Council had previously gathered in council chambers on March 16 to discuss the emergency declaration and the emergency preparedness/city council meeting participation policy — but the problem was, not enough councilmembers were at the meeting.
To be able to carry out emergency action, there must be at least five councilmembers available in person, under Englewood Municipal Code. Prior to the March 16 meeting, Councilmember Wink and and Mayor Pro Tem Sierra contacted Lewis saying that due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the two wouldn't be able to attend the meeting. Councilmember Russell told Lewis she felt she must self-quarantine due to recent travel and would not be able to attend the meeting.
Wink had recently traveled to Washington, D.C. by plane and said she believes it is prudent for her to self-isolate, in case she was exposed to COVID-19. Sierra had been suffering from a fever and called his doctor on March 12 to see if he should get tested for the virus. He didn't fit criteria for testing but called again on March 13 to try to get tested and told his doctor he is a public official — but nonetheless, he has not been tested for the virus. Sierra said out of an abundance of caution, he self-isolated himself.
“There was no way I was going to be able to show up (to the March 16 meeting),” said Sierra. He added that he is feeling better, but as of March 18, he is going to continue to self-isolate.
On March 16, Mayor Olson declared a lack of quorum, or five councilmembers, to conduct business. Wink, Sierra and Russell agreed to drive up to the parking lot for the March 17 meeting, stay in their cars, listen to the meeting from a distance of at least 10 feet and call out their vote. Englewood City Council decided the meeting was necessary to authorize future meetings to take place electronically.
For now, Englewood City Council will conduct meetings through Microsoft Teams, a communication platform that allows for video meetings. The public will be able to watch meetings at englewoodgov.civicweb.net/Portal/ and post any questions they might have. The meeting protocol is allowed under the emergency preparedness/city council meeting participation policy.
“I'm happy that council, the city, the city manager and attorney were flexible in providing us an avenue to get this voting done. I'm happy and proud that we are doing what we can considering the situation,” said Sierra.
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