The Ignacio Board of Trustees postponed a vote Monday on a new measure that would allow the town to revoke business licenses under certain circumstances.
Town-issued licenses are required for businesses to operate within Ignacio, but the town does not have a way to suspend or revoke those business licenses in its legal codes. Town officials became aware of the omission during enforcement proceedings against a local grocery store, Farmers Fresh Market, which has not complied with coronavirus-related state public health orders for months.
“The Farmers Fresh issue has brought to light that our code language is lacking in dealing with an issue like this,” said Mayor Pro Tem Alison deKay. “We don’t typically deal with business license revocations. We want to draw business to the town.”
Farmers Fresh makes face coverings optional inside its building, which counters state indoor mask requirements meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The grocery store received an enforcement letter about its noncompliance from Ignacio, San Juan Basin Public Health, the district attorney and La Plata County government.
One possible enforcement action for continued noncompliance, according to the letter, is the revocation of its business license. During the enforcement proceedings, the town realized its code did not allow it to suspend or revoke licenses.
“We have a lack of actionable support from local health agencies as far as the compliance on the health order,” deKay said. “The ordinance is our board’s effort to handle the situation locally.”
During a virtual board meeting Monday, the town trustees considered Ordinance 344, which offers specific guidelines for when licenses can be suspended, revoked or not renewed.
Under the ordinance, the town could take action in various situations, like if the licensee violates town, county, state or federal ordinances; the license is obtained by fraud or misrepresentation; business fees and taxes are not paid; and the business threatens the life, safety or health of the public.
The town trustees did not take action on the ordinance during the meeting, and they will consider a revised version Nov. 16, said Mark Garcia, interim town manager.
The ordinance drew some public pushback. Trustees heard from about 15 members of the public during the meeting, Garcia said. Many of the community speakers opposed the ordinance, suspecting the potential code changes were associated with Farmers Fresh and the potential for the town to revoke or suspend the company’s business license, he said.
DeKay said there appeared to be a drive-by protest at Ignacio Town Hall during the meeting Monday, although she and other town officials were attending the meeting remotely.
Farmers Fresh declined to comment on the ordinance.
“I believe that at this time it is in the best interest of Farmers Fresh to remain as we are in peaceful protest,” said Manager Amos Lee in an email to The Durango Herald. “Our stance is well-known. We support the right of people to make their own decisions on their own health. Anything else is a form of exploitation, and we will never exploit people.”
DeKay said the issue does relate to mask-wearing orders, but it is mainly about complying with the law.
“For us as a board as a whole, it’s the blatant disrespect to follow the law,” she said. “Farmers Fresh has been vocal in the newspaper and on social media. We’re seeing that in our meetings. The consequences of openly choosing to ignore the law are not good for our society.”
The town trustees and staff members are willing to work with businesses and to compromise, she said.
“I don’t know if that’s met with the same willingness at Farmers Fresh,” deKay said. “We’ve tried to reach across the table a lot, and we’re pretty much met with refusal.”