Boulder city council hones in on COVID, eschews other business

City of Boulder

Friday, March 27, 2020

In the midst of a pandemic, how much normalcy should elected officials strive for in carrying out local government, and how much time should be spent confronting the crisis at hand? That’s the question Boulder leaders will tackle on Tuesday as city council picks through its work plan to determine what takes priority.

Members delved a bit into that discussion at their last meeting, with a majority disinclined to take up any regular business whatsoever. There was one exception to that: A unanimous vote will bring design plans for a hotel on University Hill to council for review later this year.

But other items were dismissed left and right. A public hearing on micro mobility options? Reduced to a consent agenda item to extend the current moratorium on e-scooters.

A look at ways to rescue current citizen petition efforts? Pushed to a later, to-be-determined date.

Library district and/or funding? That discussion still could be held, but not next week.

Even board and commission appointments, which are legally mandated to be made in March, may not happen.

Read a play-by-play of council’s discussion.

Council shouldn’t do anything that could be “controversial,” councilwoman Rachel Friend said. Appointments might cause infighting, she felt.

“I think it’s going to be us bickering when we don’t need to be bickering publicly.”

Others disagreed. Mary Young and Mayor Sam Weaver wanted to proceed with appointments at the March 31 meeting.

“We don’t know much about this pandemic, but one of the things we do know is it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Young said. As time goes on, council will have “less and less appetite” to do appointments.

Could we extend the terms of current members? Weaver asked City Attorney Tom Carr. Councilman Bob Yates suggested reappointing current members to their seats.

There’s no provision for extension in the city charter, Carr replied, and he would “not advise” reappointments.

The best course of action, Carr advised, may be no action at all: Members “serve until replaced,” he said. “If you do nothing, their terms don’t expire.”

But, he cautioned, “we’re already violating” the charter because the last regular meeting in March the first week of the month, and appointments weren’t made. 

Most of council seemed alright with committing that crime, a misdemeanor. It does open the city up to possible future challenges to the decisions of quasi-judicial boards such as Planning Board, Carr said, but could be defended given the current circumstances.

“This feels low-risk to me,” councilwoman Friend said.

“I’m prepared to take my chance on the gross illegality,” councilman Mark Wallach added. “I’ve always looked good in orange.”

Boards and commissions with necessary projects will reconvene in mid-April, according to City Manager Jane Brautigam. The remote meetings will incorporate public participation.

Council’s rejection of regular business also axed the two public hearings scheduled for the April 7 meeting. Plans to resume open comment at that meeting are, as of now, still in place.

There are a dozen items on council’s current workplan. Members have indicated they will continue to advance flood work on South Boulder Creek. Other priorities will be determined Tuesday.

City council meeting: 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 31.

Streamed live online and on Channel 8.

— Shay Castle,, @shayshinecastle

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COVID-19 Governance

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