PUEBLO — Alter Ego, a pop culture gallery on Union street has received two COVID-19 violations reports since November. Owner Felix Velez claims that on both occasions, his store was not even open to the public.
"On those days they inspected... No one ever talked to us. No one ever announced who they were. They all just say they walked by and viewed it.”
In fact, the reports say verbatim "No one was spoken to on this visit."
It's cases like this that have provoked a COVID-19 Bill of Rights for small businesses to be drafted. Now, the bill is in the hands of Pueblo's City Council.
The bill proposes more transparency from COVID-19 inspectors when visiting a business, including immediately presenting themselves as inspectors and issuing citations within 24 hours of the inspection if needed. The bill also includes protection of businesses whose customers choose not to wear masks in the facility stating, "It is not the business owner's responsibility to enforce the governor's mask mandate."
Representative at Large Mark Aliff is helping spearhead the bill and wants to make it clear that he does not "believe code enforcement is intentionally going into businesses and not doing their job. I think they do a fantastic job."
"This is uncharted territory," said Aliff. "But, one of the problems has been this lack of information, 'Hey, this is what we're looking at, this is what we need fixed and we're going to come back in the next two or three days and figure out if you're doing what's asked of you.'"
According the Aliff, the inspection was originally intended to be an "educational arm of the COVID patrol."
"I've had several businesses come to me and say that that's not what's happening. Some businesses, it's taken three to four weeks to get a list of any code violations, in reality that's not very helpful," he said.
The bill does contain one item pertaining to business education, in which inspectors "shall hold an initial educational outreach meeting with each business."
Velez said he believes a bill like this would be useful for small businesses as the pandemic continues.
“I think if there’s a little more transparency and a little more communication, I think people might be more receptive to it," said Velez.
The bill is not expected to be revisited by the city again until Dec. 28th.
As of right now, Pueblo's COVID-19 team under the Code Enforcement Unit is not active, but in a press conference today the city announced that applications for the 5 star variance program are expected to open in the next several days. This means that certain businesses would be able to apply for less restrictive COVID-19 regulations in their facilities and if so the COVID-19 enforcement team could be resumed.
Are you the owner of a small business who wants to discuss the COVID-19 Bill of Rights? Email me at Natalie.Chuck@KOAA.com