Senator: It may be ‘impossible’ to open records of nonprofits serving people with disabilities

By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director

The bill is still alive, but it’s becoming clear that 20 nonprofits serving people with disabilities won’t be covered by the Colorado Open Records Act any time soon.

“I think I’m going to have an impossible time getting CORA through,” Sen. Irene Aguilar, the Denver Democrat who introduced SB 16-038, told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition earlier this week.

The Republican-controlled Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee took testimony on the bill Feb. 1 but didn’t vote on it. A vote was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but then the bill was pulled from the Senate’s calendar.

Sen. Irene Aguilar

Sen. Irene Aguilar

“They think I’m onto something, but they’re not sure it’s the right answer,” Aguilar said she was told by the committee’s chairman and Senate GOP leaders. She said they also want to see what happens to HB 16-1127, a House bill that requires state audits of community-centered boards (CCBs) but doesn’t include an open-records provision.

Under SB 16-038, CCBs receiving more than 75 percent of their annual funding from public sources would be required, like governments, to provide detailed financial records and other information when requested by the public. Aguilar’s measure also has the state auditor conducting performance audits of CCBs at least once every five years.

Realizing that some CCBs oppose the CORA provision and that it worries other nonprofits receiving government funding, Aguilar said she was prepared to amend her bill so that it just mandates regular audits.

That would have been “at least a start,” she said, adding that she’s still hopeful an audit provision will succeed. But HB 16-1127, she said, would not allow for adequate oversight because it seems to require that only three of the 20 CCBs be audited every five years.

“I’m not willing to let it potentially take 35 years for them all to be audited,” Aguilar said. “I think that’s a little absurd.”

She introduced SB 16-038 in response to financial problems at Rocky Mountain Human Services, a Denver-based CCB.

Denver City Auditor Tim O’Brien found “unreasonable spending and poor accounting practices” at RMHS, such as overcharging the city $650,000 for administrative expenses, reimbursing staff members for home Internet service and providing staff with annual Costco memberships. The former CEO’s earnings in FY 2014 totaled $478,974 in salary and benefits, far more than the next-highest paid CCB executive in the Denver metro area.

At the Feb. 1 hearing parents and advocates expressed concerns about other CCBs as well, saying they can’t be sure taxpayer money is appropriately spent on services for their young and adult children with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Several parents said this week they are disappointed by what’s happening with Aguilar’s bill. Denver Fox, who has a 48-year-old son with developmental disabilities, called it “symptomatic of the critical need for a third-party review of the entire Colorado delivery system for services for individuals with developmental disabilities.”

“The politics, the money spent on non-essential items, the closed expense ledgers,” he said. “It is difficult to understand why the legislature does not jump at an opportunity to contract with a qualified, totally impartial third party to evaluate a system that has seemingly gone totally awry.”

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

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