MONUMENT • When Board of Trustees member Ron Stephens watched 11 Denver Broncos players huddled on the field during a recent game, he asked himself why that Colorado business can operate outside of pandemic regulations and other small businesses are forced to shut down.
Why should the Broncos would be considered an essential business and not all businesses — especially those in the Town of Monument, he wondered.
Stephens recently presented the initial draft of an ordinance to the Board of Trustees which would declare all Monument businesses essential businesses, allowing them to continue to open and operate despite COVID-19 pandemic regulations handed down from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and adopted by El Paso County Public Health.
“The idea of one business being considered essential and one not is discriminatory,” Stephens said at the board's Jan. 4 meeting. “All businesses should not be discriminated against. They are essential businesses, to the owner and to their employees.
“This ordinance is looking to address all businesses and allow them to remain open, and it's the business owners which need to be responsible to prevent further spread of the virus in an appropriate manner. Not just the business, but also its patrons. It comes down to individual responsibility.”
Stephens said the measure would not ask owners and patrons to throw their masks away and ignore Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He said large government entities cannot fully know the risk factors of each individual or business, and it's up to the individual to determine for themselves.
Other trustees expressed support for the measure and requested immediate added action on it.
Trustee Mitchell LaKind said it is important for the town to be provided some form of indicator by either the county or the state that provides accurate infection rates and inoculation rates instead of just handing down measures for all businesses. “If they want us to follow their guidelines, they must give us real data,” he said.
Trustee Laurie Clark said she didn’t feel the county and state had accurate data and that the Board of Trustees needs to step up and protect all businesses in town and consider each one critical.
“It’s their constitutional right to work and no pandemic or virus supersedes the rights given to us by the Constitution,” she said.
Stephens added that Monument should be considered a "Sanctuary Town" for all businesses. He said a state of emergency declaration is designed to handle natural disasters, which might last two weeks to a month.
“When a state of emergency is in perpetuity, it becomes a state of tyranny,” Stephens said. “There are people who would say it's a real emergency if you are at high risk, but you have the ability to control how much you participate.”
Trustee Jim Romanello agreed action had to be taken and as quick as possible, and said, “Boldness begets boldness, and courage begets courage.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Elliott said the subject was a sore one for her to have someone else determine whether what someone does for a living is essential. Elliott said although she is 100% on board with the measure, calling Monument a "Sanctuary Town" for all businesses may come with negative connotations — based on emails she’s received from the community.
Town attorney Andrew Richey said a Sanctuary City declaration means the municipality will not enforce nor assist in enforcing immigration laws.
Clark brought up an ordinance recently adopted by Garfield County, in which it detached itself from state health regulations the last time the declared threat level was increased to red. She said she would submit the ordinance to the Richey to review and see how it could be adopted into a town ordinance.
“No business owner should have to look to the governor for permission to open their business,” Trustee Jamy Unruh said. “This is America.”
Mayor Don Wilson, admittedly playing devil’s advocate, said there may be instances where they have no control to prevent what the state does to enforce its regulations and used state liquor licenses as an example.
After further discussion about the cancellation of liquor licenses as a possible penalty for operating outside state health department pandemic regulations, Romanello said there was no point for a restaurant to need a liquor license if it isn't allowed to open in the first place.
“This is about taking a stand so others will take a stand,” Romanello said. “They can’t stop us all. We have to make a decision at some point and draw a damn line.”
Wilson went outside traditional board discussion protocol and opened the discussion up to public comment. Among them was Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce and President and CEO Terri Hayes, who said not just the local chamber but many chambers in the state have been pressuring the state public health department to lift regulations to a level which better represents the present statistics of the pandemic.
“State pressure is working,” she said. “It’s not working fast but it is working. It’s one of the reasons we are now at Level Orange. The county commissioners are doing what they can, but they don’t have any authority over the county department of health.”
Hayes said making a stand to ignore state and county health regulations could hinder the businesses in Monument from flying under the radar as it has been thus far, and she suggested working with the county and the state on a larger scale.
Further public discussion was met with a multitude of support from local residents and business owners for a measure to help protect them from being labeled nonessential. Some public input included volunteers looking to help the town in any way they could to achieve its goal.
It was decided the board would hold a work session to further discuss the possible ordinance on Jan. 11 with a special meeting to follow so the board may take immediate action on it.
Stephens said he would redraft the ordinance based on the board and public discussion from the evening and would get the new verbiage to the town attorney and trustees for review prior to the work session.