News organizations in Colorado will soon get some extra legal firepower to fight wrongful denials of access to government records and proceedings.
Open Meetings Laws
A split screen might be the best way to think about government transparency in Colorado in 2019. On one side is the ground-breaking new state law that opens records on completed police internal affairs investigations. On the other is the trend among law enforcement agencies in our state to encrypt 100 percent of their scanner transmissions.
A major battle plays out daily in Colorado as some of our elected and appointed officials – all of whom took a solemn oath to serve all Coloradans – do everything possible to frustrate disclosing information belonging to the people. These fights involve access to records concerning public policies created with taxpayer dollars.
A Colorado Springs school board circumvented the state’s transparency laws in hiring its superintendent, a parent alleges in a lawsuit that raises issues like those in another recent legal challenge that seeks the names and records of all finalists for the job of University of Colorado president.
Fewer professional journalists in Colorado – the total dropped nearly 44 percent between 2010 and 2018 – means fewer reporters at government meetings where important civic issues are discussed and decided. But some help may be coming from a three-year-old program that trains and pays people to monitor public officials in Chicago and Detroit.
A free and independent press is fundamental — it is essential — to American democracy at all levels. But knowing that is precisely why Coloradans must begin a conversation about alternative ways to fund local journalism — even ways that involve public dollars.
Actual malice. Autopsy reports. The Columbine killers’ “basement tapes.” Stapleton Development Corp. records. The governor’s cellphone bills. The meetings and records of a county retirement board. Tom Kelley waged court battles over these issues and many more as an attorney for The Denver Post, other news organizations and the Colorado Press Association, steadfastly and expertly defending the public’s right to know and the journalist’s right to report.
A case before the Colorado Court of Appeals focuses on what city councils and other government boards must tell the public before they meet in private.
There was no need to wait for final adjournment to see that the 2019 Colorado legislative session was a productive one for freedom of information and First Amendment-related issues. Gov. Jared Polis cinched that on April 12, when he signed into law a groundbreaking transparency bill that ensures the public disclosure of records on police internal affairs investigations.
Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition’s new 30-page “Guide to Colorado’s Open Records and Open Meetings Laws” covers what you need to know about access to information from state agencies and local governments.