The Town of Monument, located in El Paso County just north of Colorado Springs, has picked a fight with Governor Jared Polis over COVID-19 health orders. On January 11, by a 7-0 vote, the Monument Board of Trustees approved "A Resolution Reasserting the Rights of the Town of Monument and Its Residents and Condemning the Unconstitutional Limitations Imposed Upon Their Freedoms by the Governor of Colorado."
Among the resolution's assertions: "The Board of Trustees does not support COVID restrictions that would shut down businesses in the Town of Monument" and "The Board of Trustees calls upon the Governor, to take all necessary steps to prevent harm to local businesses and minimize the harm of the unconstitutional orders by reclassifying every business as an essential business."
Other municipalities have bristled over Polis mandates intended to mitigate the novel coronavirus, including Weld County and the Town of Parker — but most of the complaints died down in late December, when the governor announced that all counties listed at Level Red, a designation that precluded on-site restaurant dining, among other things, would be switched to the somewhat more lenient Level Orange on January 4.
But according to Monument Mayor Don Wilson, who's also a boardmember, this move didn't reassure the trustees, who'd been working on the resolution since early last month. "I think the change was part of the concern," he says, calling it "kind of arbitrary." In other words, if Polis could suddenly loosen restrictions, he could just as quickly tighten them again.
And that's not all that concerns Monument leaders. Wilson says he sees "a double standard" in Polis's policies, where "local businesses are being forced to play by a different set of rules. I don't know if that was intention in the beginning, but it's created a lot of frustration in the long run."
As an example, Wilson offers what's clearly an allusion to the COVID-19 outbreak at the In-N-Out Burger location in Colorado Springs.
"We've got local businesses that had to close and then were allowed to open to 25 percent capacity — and when you're talking 25 percent, that's not enough for them to pay 100 percent of the bills," he notes. "They've paid a lot of money to jump through all the hoops and meet all the state's guidelines, and some of them are mom-and-pop boutique places that only seat fifteen or twenty people. But one exit down the road, there's a food establishment that now has over 80 cases of COVID-19, and they're operating as fast as they can."
In fact, the latest outbreak report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lists the Colorado Springs In-N-Out as registering 94 infections among employees to date — but lines of customers eager to buy a Double Double continue to be huge.
This isn't the only instance of what Wilson considers the state putting undue burdens on small local businesses while allowing national operations to do whatever they please: "I hear all the time about big-box stores — constituents going there and saying, 'It was completely crowded.' But at some of our restaurants, they're only allowed to sit people at two tables."
Classifying every business, large and small, as essential would seem to preclude any health orders whatsoever — and a resolution passage stating that "The Board of Trustees calls upon each business to be responsible in evaluating their own establishment and their capacity to safely accept patrons" suggests that Monument prefers a completely laissez-faire approach when it comes to mask usage and other safety precautions. But Wilson insists that his town supports accepted guidelines promoted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and thinks local managers and entrepreneurs are doing their best to abide by them, confusion over Polis policies notwithstanding.
As for Monument's assertion that Polis's orders are unconstitutional, Polis shrugged off that claim during a January 12 press conference. Asked about the Monument resolution, the governor pointed out that courts have only struck down one of his edicts — involving virtual signature-gathering for petitions prior to last year's election — and backed all the rest.
Wilson doesn't entirely buy this claim, suggesting that the matters may simply have been heard by judges predisposed to rule in the state's favor. Likewise, he thinks the town could suffer from retribution over its resolution, as stressed in this passage: "The Board of Trustees understands that, notwithstanding their unconstitutional nature, State authorities will attempt to pressure businesses to comply and may threaten their livelihoods. The Town of Monument does not have the ability to preclude State enforcement actions. The Board therefore calls on each business and individual to determine for themselves the level to which they desire to comply, in their best interests, with the Governor's unconstitutional orders."
"After the special legislative session, a lot of people feel it's very clear the state will target those that disagree with what it's doing," Wilson explains, "and we just wanted to make sure our constituents and businesses were aware of that. We may have more state health department inspectors down here, and they may want to take a closer look at what Monument's doing. But I would hope the state would be pleasantly surprised at how well the community is doing to maintain the proper mandates."
Even if some members of that community feel the rules are stacked against them.
Click to read the Monument resolution.
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