At the beginning of the April 6 Denver City Council meeting, Councilman Chris Hinds noted that he and other members were about to do something unprecedented: "I am so excited to be part of history. Tonight, we are doing our first virtual conference in the history of Denver City Council. I am excited to be here, to participate. I'm excited to have my colleagues here as well."
For the first time, members were allowed to call in to Denver City Council's weekly meeting. The emergency rules facilitating this format had been approved at the end of March, allowing for virtual meetings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While seven members of council had opted to come to the Denver City & County Building (where they observed proper social-distancing protocol in council chambers), six called in via Zoom.
"I'm excited that we will have no technical glitches at all," Hinds predicted.
And that's when the chaos began.
One of the requirements that the new rules had to satisfy was ensuring that meetings were accessible to the public. But members in chambers soon began receiving text messages that people watching on Channel 8 were unable to hear them speak. Instead, those watching on the city's station could only hear the members who had called in on Zoom.
If you were watching the meeting on Zoom, as Westword did, these initial glitches weren't apparent. On Channel 8, however, the meeting started with a silent Pledge of Allegiance and then more silence until members on Zoom answered 'here' during the roll call.
Once Denver City Council President Jolon Clark figured out that folks at home weren't able to hear much of the proceedings, he ordered a brief recess. "Isn't technology wonderful?" noted Councilman Kevin Flynn, who was at City Hall. Flynn and the other seven members who'd attended in-person then did mic checks and restarted the meeting. And that's when the meeting really went off the rails.
The six Zoomers were now cut off from the rest of council.
Instead of showing Clark move through the proceedings, Zoom began alternating a live stream of Hinds with a still photo of his face. Councilwoman Debbie Ortega also made a brief appearance in the corner of the screen, the lone other virtual councilmember to do so.
Meanwhile, back on Channel 8, the seven members of council who were physically present kept chugging along. Even after they learned that their Zoom colleagues had been cut off entirely, Clark noted that a quorum was present and moved ahead.
Knowing that Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, one of the Zoomers, had called out an agenda item about marijuana research license regulations for a discussion and vote, Councilwoman Robin Kniech asked council to delay voting by a week "and hope that our technology works next time."
With her mask almost falling off her face as she spoke, Kniech added: "I believe that because this is the first time that we are trying this form of democracy, it is critical for us, even if we can anticipate that the votes will be here to pass it this week, as they were last week, that we cannot have technology be the barrier in a situation like that, because I think it's so important that the trust be in this form of democracy that we are evolving."
The six other members of council present agreed to the delay.
Soon after, Clark adjourned the meeting, bringing to a close a profoundly informative, 32-minute close-up of the Zoomer generation.