WINDSOR — The arbitrary decision by the Windsor Town Manager to use taxpayer money to subsidize a private, non Windsor-based business led one town board member to call for a discussion about whether emergency powers granted to the town manager were necessary or proper to begin with.
“I wasn’t real happy with it at the time,” said David Sislowski, who represents District 6 in the Northern Colorado municipality. Sislowski was referring to a resolution the board passed in March authorizing certain additional powers to the town manager, Shane Hale, under an emergency public health order. “I was surprised by the scope of authority that was granted. I wasn’t real tickled, but I figured if the rest of the board thought it made sense, I went along with it. You pick your fights.”
Sislowski has changed his mind on that resolution, but after a special meeting on Jan. 4, it does not appear he has the support of fellow board members.
The resolution essentially gave broad, open-ended powers to an unelected official to take action without first seeking approval of the town board. Only the mayor acts as a check and balance on Hale, and then only if he chooses to revoke the state of emergency issued as result of COVID-19.
The resolution was voted on by a previous board, including former Mayor Kristie Melendez, who was term limited and left office just weeks later. Current Mayor Paul Rennemeyer represented District 4 when the board passed the resolution unanimously.
The emergency powers granted the town manager include (but are not limited to) such things as:
- Create a town curfew for up to 72 hours.
- Evacuate all or part of the town and create transportation routes.
- Close private businesses for up to 72 hours.
- Allocate and expend funds, execute contracts, obtain property – all with no limitations.
- Suspend or modify any provision of any town ordinance.
- Accept services, gifts, grants, loans, etc. – with no limitations.
Exercise of these powers are supposed to be in relation to the town’s response to COVID-19; however, the document is vague and requires Hale only have a “consultation” with the mayor before proceeding. He does not require the mayor’s approval.
Although no one has accused Hale of abusing the authority or question it for the past nine months, that changed in December, Sislowski said.
“I was having growing concern about and use of the executive order, seeing what they have done at the state level,” Sislowski said. “Emergency powers make sense in an emergency such as flood waters or when a tornado rips through the town.”
Sislowski said he can see in situations such as those that things have to be done quickly.
“Water, food, shelter, has to happen fast I get that,” Sislowski said. “The pandemic is an odd thing. It’s not that it’s not horrible or critical, but it’s not acute, you don’t need to make a decision in an hour. This is still a small town; you can call a meeting pretty quickly.”
At the Jan. 4 meeting, Rennemeyer initially said he would not put the discussion on a future agenda unless “four or five” members asked for it. However, by the end of the meeting, it came back up and board members briefly discussed it.
There was no decision about whether it would be discussed further, as Rennemeyer reiterated that he needed more board members than just Sislowski to request the desire to discuss it. Sislowski asked that everyone get a copy of the resolution first and look at it.
Rennemeyer told Complete Colorado that for the benefit of the new board members he emailed them a copy of the resolution to review further. However, he didn’t answer questions about what baseline he has in place to rescind the emergency order.
Although there were some who thought the definition of “emergency” may need to be better defined, there was not initial support to revoke the powers.
The concerns by Sislowski came about because of a contract that was initiated by Hale to subsidize delivery fees for a Northern Colorado based food delivery service, Noco Nosh. The idea is that if the town reimburses restaurants the 15 percent delivery fee charged by Noco Nosh, that could help the restaurants’ bottom line.
Sislowski was opposed to the contract, saying it is not for government to pick winners and losers and without sending the plan out for proposals, he believed Windsor was singling out one business over another.
“We should be more universal,” Sislowski said. “What about those restaurants that already have their own delivery service or a contract with someone else? And what about businesses that are more retail and not food? They have products to sell and no one going into their business. The more I think about it, the less I like it.”
When Sislowski inquired at a previous meeting about the contract needing board approval, he became frustrated with the emergency resolution after Hale reminded the board that he didn’t need approval.
At the Jan. 4 meeting, Hale conceded that after Sislowski’s concerns were raised about picking winners and losers, he decided to put a clause in it that would allow all delivery companies to take advantage of the subsidy if they requested it.
Complete Colorado filed an open records request for information on the Noco Nosh contract and will continue to follow the process.