Technology has made it easier than ever for governments to generate information, yet it also raises barriers to the public’s ability to inspect those records. CFOIC President Steve Zansberg explores this issue in an article for Communications Lawyer magazine.
Public Records Laws
For the CFOIC, revisiting 2014 reveals a somewhat troubling string of stories about issues and problems affecting government transparency in Colorado. Consider them one by one and you might not be all that concerned. But put them in a list and you could reasonably conclude that open government in the Centennial State is still a work in progress.
Successfully challenging a denial of public records entitles you to some portion of your attorneys’ fees even if it was a records custodian who initiated the court action, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and two other organizations argued in a friend-of-the-court brief.
Public records aren’t supposed to be prohibitively expensive – that was the goal of a new state law capping research-and-retrieval fees. So we were surprised to see a $2,440 estimate to review records from a special district in Falcon.
Following a letter from a CFOIC volunteer attorney, the Jefferson County School District reversed an earlier decision to deny a parent’s request for the names of teachers at his daughter’s high school who collectively called in sick one day last September.
Littleton Schools Superintendent Scott Murphy cited a federal student privacy law as a reason he could not answer reporters’ questions about what school officials knew about threats made by student Karl Pierson before the shooting at Arapahoe High School last December. But FERPA does not apply to adult students who are deceased, according to multiple sources which say that a student’s privacy rights lapse upon his or her death.
Reporter Teresa Benns has endured verbal attacks and threats of physical violence while documenting and commenting on the workings and failings of government in Saguache County and the small town of Center. She perseveres because it’s her duty, she said, accepting the CFOIC’s Jean Otto Friend of Freedom Award.
The CFOIC questions why the public had to wait so long to see the Aurora theater shooting response report and why certain already well-publicized names and details have been X’d out.
A 2013 report illustrated the confusing and expensive landscape of “research and retrieval” fees charged to CORA requestors by various state, county and municipal government entities. One year later, Colorado Ethics Watch and CFOIC have revisited those same government entities to see if things have improved.
To help parents, teachers, students and taxpayers better understand how to use the Colorado Open Records Act and the state’s Open Meetings Law, the CFOIC and Chalkbeat Colorado teamed up to present a lively and informative panel discussion: “Transparency 101: How to exercise your rights to information and open meetings in your school district.”