By Lisa Young
At least two public meetings held recently in Delta County overstepped the 10-person gathering limit mandated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and executive orders from the state.
The first violation was reported on May 5 when over 30 persons attended a political meeting. The second infringement happened on May 20 when several teens came into the board of county commissioners meeting to thank them for considering a proposal to upgrade a skatepark.
A photo of the crowded meeting room posted on the Delta County Citizen Report Facebook page created a firestorm of comments. JoAnn Kalenak, page moderator, stated that there were 20 people, including commissioners “crowding into small meeting room ignoring Safer-at-Home order.”
Bob Kalenak, former Delta County employee, commented in favor of supporting the skatepark project but blasted commissioners for not controlling the meeting.
“The violation of gatherings over 10 people is not on this group, the BoCC controls the meeting and it was their violation to own. Coming at a time they have requested the governor for a variance, saying they can oversee a better plan with their own guidelines, just shows the governor the lack of any oversight or any enforcement on the part of our officials. It doesn’t help that Commissioner Don Suppes’ reaction to the post of this violation is to laugh.”
Jay Canode, representing the skate park project, countered saying, “The county had everyone staged and distanced in the hallway before it was our turn. When it was the group’s time to enter, it all happened very quickly. I know the county employees did not mean for this to happen. It just kind of did. They were all in the room for less than five minutes. Just some context before jumping to conclusions.”
Delta County spokesperson, Darnell Place-Wise said the girls were properly distanced in the hallway during the skatepark presentation and came into the room for a brief moment to thank commissioners and then left.
Upon request, the Delta County Independent received the following statement issued by Delta County:
“Delta County’s Board of Commissioners’ meetings, per the 3rd Amended Public Health Order (PHO) 20-28, and confirmed by the Delta County attorney, are exempt from the 10 person limit. The order is stated under Critical Government Functions. The provision: operation and support of the following state and local government functions shall continue, to include the Colorado General Assembly, legislative bodies of municipal governments, and executive branch functions.”
“Even though this exemption is in place, Delta County Board of Commissioners has been diligent in providing for social distancing, and reducing group size, throughout this pandemic. Delta County was delighted to hear from our youth as they actively engaged in our democratic process,” Place-Wise added.
While Colorado Public Health Order 20-28; Section III does allow the legislative and executive branches of state and local governments to continue, there is no mention of meeting-size exemptions. The gathering limit is listed in Section II and states that government functions and critical government functions shall continue to “maintain 6 foot separation between employees and discourage shared spaces and avoid gatherings (meetings, waiting rooms, etc.) of more than 10 people.”
“We are following the governor’s orders of 10 gathering or less so, we don’t have any exemptions to that at the moment and we do ask everyone to wear a face covering as well,” commented Karen O’Brien, health department director, regarding the Republican Central Committee violation on May 5.
O’Brien said no official complaint has been filed regarding the commissioner meeting incident. In case of a formal complaint, the health department would first ‘reach out by phone call or in-person,’ if the violation posed ‘imminent danger’ law enforcement would be notified.
Public health orders are enforceable by local health departments and law enforcement. Violators could face “penalties, including jail time, and fines, and may also be subject to discipline on a professional license based upon the applicable practice act.”
The Delta County Health Department is currently gathering data on the number of complaints received on COVID-19 alleged violations.