Federal or state officials should do something to help those having a difficult time making rent or paying their mortgage, Westminster City Councilors agreed April 13. Councilors unanimously approved …
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Federal or state officials should do something to help those having a difficult time making rent or paying their mortgage, Westminster City Councilors agreed April 13.
Councilors unanimously approved a resolution asking that banks, mortgage companies, landlords and rental businesses be lenient on people having a tough time financially during the COVID-19 outbreak. It asks them to delay rents and mortgages and be forgiving when it comes to utility shut-offs, evictions and foreclosures.
After some wordsmithing, they agreed to ask federal and state government to provide some kind of relief and financial aid.
“This is exactly what many of us on council have been pushing for, for a couple of weeks, as a way to alleviate some of the pressures on our residents who may suddenly find themselves without jobs and face having to pay rent or mortgage or utilities,” Councilor Kathryn Skulley said. “This is a great resolution to some of those pressures.”
The initial draft of the resolution requested financial aid from the state or federal government for those affected by the virus called them to formally suspend rent, mortgages and utility payments as well as negative credit reports.
That phrasing didn’t sit well with four of the councilors, including Mayor Herb Atchison.
“I am very concerned about taking a blanket, overall approach and asking for the suspension of all rents, all mortgages and all payments,” Councilor Rich Seymour said. “I believe that will substantially deepen the decline of our economy and will make it even harder for us to come out of it when we are able to get out and about again. Not every person needs their rent or mortgage suspended.”
Atchison and Councilors David DeMott and Lindsay Smith agreed with Seymour.
“To defer rent for people that don’t need a deferral makes no sense to me and I think it’s punishing landlords to the point where they are being told to defer, regardless of the excuse,” Atchison said. “But I totally support anybody who is having lost jobs, been furloughed by jobs or otherwise been affected by this asking the landlords.”
The remaining councilors agreed, rewriting the resolution to turn it into a request and encouraged other levels of government to support rent and mortgage suspension.
That was enough to get the four votes on-board, although Councilor Smith said she still had issues with the wording.
“It still doesn’t sit well with me,” Smith said. “I understand what we are trying to accomplish and looking at our community and trying to help. So, while I’m not entirely comfortable with the wording, I will follow with my colleagues to support this for the greater good of Westminster.”
In other business, councilors discussed ways to take public comments about controversial matters while quarantines and stay-at-home orders are in place.
“We held our first virtual city council meeting way back on March 23 and we had two public hearings, which at that time only consisted only of written comments that were submitted prior to the meeting,” City Clerk Michelle Parker.
Parker outlined several ways to encourage public comment during virtual City Council meetings, including reading emailed comments into the meeting’s record, playing pre-recorded voice mails and creating a system to let residents phone in to make their comments.
Residents could sign up to make comments through the City Clerk’s office before the meeting and would be given an email link that would allow them to log on and interact with councilors.
“It would include instructions for leaving a backup message in the event that either they or we encounter technical difficulties while they are trying to testify,” Parker said.
The goal is to mirror the participation during a regular in-person meeting, Parker said. Deputy City Attorney Kristen Decker said another goal is to meet public meeting requirements.
“What we want to make sure of is that the people who have a legal interest need to be allowed to speak,” Decker said. “Anybody who is an adjoining landowner and anybody entitled to public notice, as long as they have an opportunity to be heard, that’s what we are trying to accomplish. The other thing is creating a public record.”
Councilors did offer their support. Councilor DeMott thanked staff and applauded the guidelines.
“I appreciate that we have found a way to accommodate multiple people, understanding that in-person meetings are the best solution,” DeMott said. “But in times when we can’t do that, this seems like a good solution to me.”
Councilor Lindsay Smith suggested simply not hosting public hearings until in-person meetings can be scheduled. Seymour said he’s concerned that online meetings won’t get as much public comment for controversial discussions as they deserve.
DeMott encouraged City staff and councilors to delay items if they are especially controversial.
“The thing I want to avoid is to look like we are — and I don’t have a better term for this — trying to slip things by the public,” DeMott said. “I’m glad we’ve come up with a solution because there are things we need to get done in our business that continued the city moving forward.”
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