SAGUACHE — More than 20 concerned citizens of Saguache County gathered Tuesday, Oct. 5, in the Commissioners' meeting room and directly outside to express their dismay with a resolution passed on Sept. 21 regarding the emergency management of the county's resources, funding, and powers during a crisis.
After hearing from residents in the morning, Commissioners and County staff agreed it needed to be reworked and later that same afternoon rescinded it with a 3-0 vote. County staff will work on the plan and bring it back to Commissioners for consideration at a future meeting.
“We are more than happy to look at editing the document,” said County Director of Emergency Management Bobby Woelz prior to the vote to repeal it. He worked with the Commissioners on drafting the resolution over several months.
The 11-page resolution in question outlines the County's protocols during a crisis. It has been posted on the homepage of the County's website since it was passed last month. Emergency operations plans are common documents within all levels of government and all counties within the San Luis Valley have versions that pertain to their areas.
"To provide the basic governmental functions of maintaining the public peace, health, and safety before, during, and after, an emergency or disaster, including prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery, as intended by the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act (C.R.S. 24-33.5-701) as amended," the plan states.
These plans allow for decisions and actions to be made while an emergency is ongoing.
The Saguache County Board of County Commissioners met in regular session before moving to an executive closed session with Woelz and County Sheriff Dan Warwick.
Most of the concerned citizens expressed their objection to the resolution while waiting for the executive session to end.
After the meeting returned to open session, Saguache County Sheriff Warwick spoke to the crowd.
“I probably share many of the concerns the public does, after reading it I thought it might be an overreach by the government," Warwick said. "The intent of the order is only for emergencies. I know it sounds like it is saying that we can come in your home and take your things, but that was not the intent. The intent was to make it so I can pay for and request what I need for and during emergencies.”
Sheriff Warwick explained that most of the resolution was to help the County marshal resources in the event of an emergency, including necessary financial resources.
Commissioner Tim Lovato said the County was going to "establish emergency funds so that we can have that in place." He added that he heard from constituents concerned about the resolution's "provocative" language.
"I spoke to a constituent and that person told me their concerns that this was an overreach, and that it has provocative language in it," Lovato said. "There are improvements that need to be made in it.”
Commissioner Lynne Thompson explained her view on the resolution.
“What I did like as is that it establishes a chain of command and how to fund emergency plans," Thompson said. "I think that we need to reword it, as it may be seen as overreaching.”
After comments from the commissioners, the issue was opened to the public. Each person that wanted to speak was given a maximum of 2 minutes to do so. Several people made comments regarding the wording, definitions, and scope of the resolution.
Bill Lamphere said the resolution should be voided.
“I don’t know how you could have this, as this document should be void for vagueness," Lamphere said. "I believe that you are trying to do what is best, but all it takes is for one person to not have the best of intentions to take advantage.”
Other people said the resolution could take away their civil liberties, such as the forceable closing of businesses and warrantless searches.
Others were concerned the resolution did not address in what circumstances these measures would be taken.
One person passed around a petition for people to sign, demanding that the resolution be immediately dissolved.