Following protests at city hall, Denver City Council meetings are moving online

The council president cited COVID-19 concerns, but a leading activist said he believes the move hinders free speech.

The Denver People's Town Hall, on the City and County Building steps. June 29, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver People's Town Hall, on the City and County Building steps. June 29, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

The Denver City Council will move meetings online following two weeks of disruption that began last month when protesters took over the microphone at city hall for several hours and demanded drastic changes to the law enforcement system.

On Thursday, City Council President Jolon Clark confirmed that legislative and committee meetings will be virtual indefinitely, undoing a setup that had brought council members, city staffers and members of the public as COVID-19 cases began to taper off.

In a statement released Friday, Clark emphasized that council was following the guidance of the city’s top health officials. Denver has the most COVID-19 cases in the state and the highest number of deaths.

“Virtual participation will allow voices to be heard while allowing for maximum safety in a time of pandemic,” he said.

After canceling the legislative meeting on June 29, Clark told Denverite that the number of protesters at the prior week’s meeting, many of whom refused to wear masks during an evening of speeches inside Council Chambers, presented a public health risk. He was also unwilling to call on security officials to enforce pandemic behavior at a time when “the interaction between law enforcement and citizens is at its peak,” he said.

Gabriel Lavine with the Afro Liberation Front told Denverite that while he understands the public health issue and believes that it was one reason for moving the meetings online, he also believes elected officials are dodging residents who are demanding serious policy changes.

“I think it might be a little bit of both,” Lavine told Denverite on Thursday. “I think watching the re-emergence of COVID in the country, I understand the reasoning, but if I’m being frankly honest, I feel like the city council was going in this direction already.”

Clark would never have canceled the June 29th meeting if he and his fellow protesters had not made it public, Lavine said.

Council members will host Zoom meetings with anyone who wants to join on July 30 from 6 to 7 p.m., August 10 from noon to 1 p.m. and August 22 from 10 to 11 a.m. For links to the meetings and to sign up for public participation, visit www.denvergov.org/CouncilPublicInput.

The council’s next online legislative meeting is Monday at 5 p.m.

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