Denver City Council President Cancels Weekly Meeting, Cites COVID

Denver City Council President Cancels Weekly Meeting, Cites COVID
Evan Semón
Denver City Council president Jolon Clark has canceled council's regular weekly meeting set for 5:30 p.m. today, June 29.

"The big concern is COVID spread. We’re drawing larger crowds each week, and we need to come up with a method for virtual public participation so that we’re not encouraging these large crowds together," says Stacy Simonet, a council spokesperson, who notes that while Clark accepted input from the rest of the councilmembers, the final decision to cancel was his alone.

But while COVOD-19 cases have been going up in Colorado, not everyone is buying Clark's reason for canceling the meeting. Activists associated with the Denver chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation call it a "flimsy excuse."

"It’s a supreme show of cowardice if the city council thinks that this is some kind of a power move. They are dead wrong. They look so small and pathetic," says Lillian House, an organizer with PSL Denver.

House and dozens of others came to the Denver City Council meeting last Monday, when the public comment portion grew to two and a half hours as people voiced their concerns about police brutality and argued for defunding the police. When Clark tried to follow the regular council agenda at that meeting, he was shouted down, and eventually relented.

Last week, seventy individuals had signed up for the public comment section, a remarkably high number for a Denver City Council meeting. Since not everyone could fit in council chambers, city staff opened up multiple overflow rooms.

According to Simonet, it's difficult to maintain social distancing in council chambers because people who come to meetings don't want to have to sit in the overflow rooms. "People come to a meeting to get to be a part of the meeting," she says. "They don’t want to watch it on TV."

Simonet pushes back against House's suggestion that council canceled this week's meeting because those present for public comment last week commandeered the first few hours of the meeting.

"I don’t think that’s true. Every week we’ve had more people sign up to speak than we knew we could hear in the time allotted. We’ve expanded that session each week to accommodate those folks. They chose to be impatient," says Simonet. Fifty-five people had already signed up to speak on June 29 before tonight's meeting was canceled.

Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, Denver City Council created a way for some councilmembers to participate virtually in the Monday meetings. Even then, however, at least seven councilmembers had to be physically present in chambers, and the public still had to be allowed in.

That's why simply switching to a virtual meeting tonight wouldn't have fixed the issue of possible COVID spread within council chambers, according to Simonet, who notes that council is working on creating a virtual participation process for members of the public. It will also be organizing listening sessions, she says.

Meanwhile, the Party for Socialism and Liberation will hold a "people's town hall" at 6 p.m. this evening outside of the City and County Building of Denver.

"We will be speaking directly to the people who hold power," House says, "and we’ll speak to the media, and they can’t avoid us."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.