Aurora to hold special meeting to determine its fate as so-called sanctuary city

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AURORA | Following a debate on the proper format, Aurora officials have confirmed that city council will hold a formal discussion during a special study session March 27 on  Aurora’s status as a so-called “sanctuary city.”

The meeting is open to the public, but members of the audience will not be permitted to comment during the event.

Amid constantly evolving immigration and deportation policies handed down by President Donald Trump’s administration — including a new executive order signed March 6 and banning travel from certain countries — city officials recently re-upped the debate on Aurora’s disputed tag as a “sanctuary city.” The term remains without a formal definition from the federal government.

Late last month, four city council members who sit on the policy committee that deals with public relations discussed Aurora’s past flirtations with so-called sanctuary city status and made a formal recommendation to hold an organized public debate on the topic at an upcoming special study session. Councilman Charlie Richardson ignited the discussion at the committee meeting and has since pushed for a public dialogue on the topic.

At the regular city council meeting Feb. 27, Richardson requested the upcoming special study session be held in Aurora City Council Chambers instead of the much smaller Aurora Room, which is where study sessions typically take place. Richardson also requested a real-time Spanish language translation be made available for the meeting and that members of the public be invited to make comments lasting no longer than three minutes. Both of those additional stipulations grate against standard protocol for study sessions.

Following conversations with City Attorney Mike Hyman, Mayor Steve Hogan confirmed the council has two options: Hold a normal study session without public comment or hold a public meeting that allows for comment from citizens but little chance for council to discuss matters among themselves.

“What we found was a resolution from 1991 (that) has never been rescinded, so it is a part of our operating rules and that resolution makes it pretty clear,” Hogan said. “You can either have a study session where it’s council talking, staff presenting with maybe outside experts, but you really don’t have any public comment … because it’s more of a work session than anything else, or you can have a public meeting where you don’t do any work — you just listen to public comment.”

After polling council members in recent days via email on the question of whether to hold a study session or public meeting, Hogan said a majority of council members elected to hold the March 27 meeting in a special study session format. That means experts and city officials will brief council, but there will be no public comment. The public can comment during the “public invited to be heard” portion of the regular council meeting, which follows study session.

“This isn’t shutting off the ability of anybody to come and address council, it’s just that it needs to be done under normal processes, public invited to be heard,” Hogan said.

Richardson said he wasn’t able to convince enough council members to hold a public meeting.

“I don’t see me being able to change the hearts and minds of council to be able to open this up to more of a public forum,” he said. “That’s the just the way it goes.”

Richardson also said he believes the meeting will be held in the smaller Aurora Room without translation, following standard procedure for study sessions.

Holding a public meeting at a later date remains on the table, according to Hogan.

Hogan said the sanctuary city debate is becoming increasingly slippery given the constantly morphing state of national immigration policy.

“What we’ve got is a moving target,” he said. “Everybody is understandably nervous and emotional, and some are very honestly afraid.

“What we’ve got is a situation that changes every three or four days and it’s pretty tough to have a public meeting for people to come and talk when in three days the whole world may change,” he added. “It’s just one of those difficult, fluid situations.”