‘Dear Coloradan:’ Polis sends form-letter response to Garfield County’s request for local control
Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin grew increasingly frustrated as he read aloud a form letter he received from Gov. Jared Polis’ office Thursday afternoon.
Martin sent two letters of his own this week to Gov. Jared Polis on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners — one Monday and another on Wednesday — requesting an executive order that would allow the county and others to assume local control over when and how restaurants and other businesses begin to reopen.
“Garfield County requests you issue a new Executive Order to allow the less affected, the willing and able counties to regain their local control, by addressing the impacts on their citizens, and restore confidence in government,” Martin wrote in the Wednesday letter.
“Time is important, let’s not wait and let the civil unrest movement gel, give flexibility to the local governing bodies, and allow them the ability to cure the many issues that are facing local governments and Colorado, during this trying time.”
The request comes as the number of new local COVID-19 cases drops off, and businesses are chomping at the bit to be able to open and expand services ahead of the state’s timeline to do so.
The county’s letters were sent out ahead of a formal request to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment seeking a variance to reopen restaurants and other businesses that remain closed or limited due to public health orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Commissioners will formally consider the variance request at a special meeting slated for 2 p.m. Friday. To view or to sign up to comment during the meeting, click here.
“With guarded expectations after the letters we sent to the governor, we received a standard form letter telling us all things he has done to help small businesses, that these are challenging times … and to please contact this website,” Martin said, referring to the state’s COVID-19 Issues and Concerns web page.
Read the letters:
“I guess I’m going to have to write another letter tomorrow,” Martin said.
Garfield County is trying to react to growing unrest among some restaurant and other business owners as state orders continue to prevent them from reopening fully until the state reconsiders the situation later this month. Polis has said he won’t revisit the rules regarding restaurants until May 25.
Unless a variance is granted, as in the case of Mesa County, restaurants are now limited to take-out and delivery service only.
But one Rifle restaurant, Shooters Grill — owned by congressional candidate Lauren Boebert — has been openly defying the orders this week. Since last weekend, Shooters has been serving customers inside the restaurant at what Boebert said was 30% capacity — same as Mesa County is now allowed.
After a temporary restraining order was issued by the courts Wednesday directing her to stop, she was continuing to serve customers at outside tables on Thursday.
“We have civil unrest and uncooperation, and it’s going to grow,” Martin said. “And we’ll probably see more of it all across the state. We need to have local control to be able to open up our businesses. That’s all we’re asking.”
The forthcoming variance request asks that restaurants be allowed to open as soon as possible at 30% capacity, with both inside and outside dining. The county also wants the ability to monitor other businesses that are willing to open, such as gyms, hotels and motels and outdoor recreation outfitters, as well as places of worship.
The second letter sent on Wednesday was more pointed in the county’s stated need to control the growing unrest.
“Some public members and groups are unwilling to adhere to some parts of the health order,” the letter states. “Other groups of like businesses are banding together and talking about challenging or defy (sic) the orders in larger numbers.
“Garfield County is doing well so far in keeping the lid on our several hot spots. Soon, however, there will be less ability to control an outbreak of defiance.”
It reiterates the request in Monday’s letter — sent following a discussion at the regular commissioners meeting — asking Polis to issue an executive order to allow local control over the situation and “quell the unrest.”
In an undated response letter beginning with “Dear Coloradan” signed by Polis, the governor said the request will be taken under consideration.
“We have received your request for an exemption, and are thoughtfully examining the merits of your proposal,” the governor’s letter reads. “However, we are only granting these on a case-by-case basis, as exemptions undermine our ability to limit and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
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Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday that via executive order he has suspended collection of the 2.9% sales tax that businesses must typically return to the government. That means businesses affected by the executive order — bars, restaurants and food trucks — can hang onto an extra $2.90 per $100 in revenue.