Republican lawmakers from Douglas County urged county commissioners to cut ties with the Tri-County Health Department after the agency announced a stay-at-home order early Wednesday for Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties.
A Republican Douglas County commissioner, however, said authority for such decisions rests with the health department under state law.
The Tri-County order was superseded Wednesday afternoon when Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order, but the argument over local control remained.
The six Colorado lawmakers — including Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock — sent commissioners a letter Wednesday, saying they learned that the health agency was issuing the order despite opposition from at least two Dougco commissioners. Sen. Jim Smallwood of Parker, who said he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, also signed the letter.
“We consider it unacceptable that a contracted health agency could somehow ignore the will of a majority of our elected and accountable Douglas County Commissioners,” the letter states.
Holbert told The Denver Post that public health experts shouldn’t be able to overrule elected officials who are accountable to the people they represent.
“That is one of the base primary reasons why we have elected officials,” he said.
But Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said the board did not vote on the issue and members understand that public health experts are uniformly recommending people stay at home. Lawmakers will have to amend state law if they want the commissioners to have more authority, he said.
Still, Laydon said, commissioners would like more exemptions, clarity and better data.
“Let’s not politicize a pandemic, and let’s not deprive our citizens of essential services right now,” he said. “Let’s try to provide accurate information.”
Laydon also said commissioners want to ensure people know that county officials are anticipating warnings for those who violate the orders, not necessarily hefty fines.
“We want to maintain social and emotional life and go back to restoring liberties as soon as we can,” Laydon said.
Tri-County Health Director John Douglas said he was disappointed the state lawmakers chose to articulate their views in such a public way, particularly because so many people are already scared during the pandemic and should be hearing one message. Ultimately, the health department followed the law, Douglas said.
“We all need to pull together because we have a lot of work to do to slow down transmission (of coronavirus),” he said.
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