Denver City Council will revert to online meetings amid protests, pandemic

Denver City Council will revert back to virtual meetings after recent protests broke out in and around the City and County Building — and it’s unclear when the public will again be able to make comments.

The council shifted to hybrid online and in-person meetings in April as a way of curbing the spread of COVID-19 but by the end of June the entire council was back to meeting in person.

Recently, however, Denver’s George Floyd protests spilled into council chambers and demonstrators seized control of the room, demanding to voice their frustrations and concerns.

Packing the room with people — many of whom did not wear masks and refused to socially distance — renewed concerns that the virus could easily spread among citizens, city staff and council members, said Council President Jolon Clark. To remove the risk, the council will shift its weekly Monday meetings and committee meetings online.

The switch is up to Clark as council president; a vote of the entire group is not needed.

“It was the kind of situation where if one person in that room was sick with coronavirus there were going to be a lot more people sick that next week,” Clark said.

Denver staff has a mandatory furlough day Monday, and the Monday meeting and all council committee meetings this week have been canceled. But once the council returns next week, all of its meetings will be online, confirmed Stacy Simonet, an administrator for City Council Legislative Services.

Just how long the council’s meetings will remain online is unclear, Simonet said.

And just how those virtual meetings will work also remains unclear, Clark said. City staff has the rest of the week to determine the new procedures.

The council was forced to pause action on measures that required public comment during the early weeks of the pandemic because the virtual platform couldn’t handle the extra load of commenters. Instead, the council only voted on noncontroversial items that didn’t require a public hearing.

It’s not yet clear if city staff have devised a way for the council’s virtual meetings to accept public comments, Clark said, so it’s not clear if those same, more complicated measures like zoning changes will have to be paused.

Clark said the goal is eventually to allow for a public comment period and comments on measures up for a vote.

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