The Denver City Council will begin holding its council and committee meetings both in person and online this week following the passage of a hybrid meeting model Monday.
The ordinance requires the council to provide the public with the ability to watch and participate in council meetings via methods like Zoom, even as the council reverts to in-person operations. The ordinance was unanimously approved without comment.
“The world has changed,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who sponsored the ordinance, during a committee meeting. “COVID has created a very different way of doing business that was adopted much more quickly than it probably ever would have been … and there’s a real understanding that that’s okay.”
Monday’s passage comes after the ordinance vote was delayed on June 14 and June 18 due to technical issues with the hybrid meeting technology.
City Council meetings began to be held remotely for the first time in Denver’s history during summer 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A city survey of 329 residents found that 51.67% of respondents wanted City Council meetings to return to in-person after the pandemic ends; however, 90.27% wanted the meetings to continue to provide remote options.
Sawyer said the closed captioning and translation services provided by Zoom meetings allow more residents to participate, in addition to providing access for residents who live far from the City Council building, don’t have transportation and/or have to care for their children.
And, by restarting in-person meetings as well, participation is now open to people without access to technology, including homeless residents.
“We really found that this remote option has increased accessibility to our citizens,” Sawyer said. “On the other hand, people feel really removed without the personal interaction. So, the best option would be to find something in the middle.”
Under the ordinance, City Council members will also be able to participate in meetings virtually in the case of general or personal emergencies.
During general emergencies – defined as disaster or emergency declarations like severe weather or public health orders – all council member will operate remotely and notice will be provided on the city website within 48 hours of the meeting.
During personal emergencies – including work travel and personal or medical emergencies – only the member experiencing the emergency will attend the meeting remotely.
When operating virtually, council members must appear live on camera when establishing quorum, speaking and voting. Council members are not allowed to use their phones for meetings and their votes will not be counted if they are not appearing on video when casting the vote.
All council and committee meetings will now be held in room 450 of the Denver City and Council Building at 1437 Bannock St.
The first hybrid meeting will be the council’s meeting with Mayor Michael Hancock at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the City and County Building room 389, followed by the finance and governance committee meeting at 1:30 p.m. in room 450.