By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
A follow-up to a fault-finding May 2020 report from Denver City Auditor Tim O’Brien on the city’s process for complying with open-records requests says eight of 14 recommendations have been fully or partially implemented.
In an update issued earlier this month, O’Brien wrote that some recommendations from his original report were put in place “10 months late as we performed this audit follow-up.” The office of Mayor Michael Hancock, he added, did not act on a suggestion that it include on its website frequently asked questions and other guidance for successfully requesting records from Denver under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).
“Without clear rules, guidelines, monitoring, or a section for frequently asked questions, the public may continue to struggle with submitting open records requests,” the auditor’s follow-up report says. “This could lead to increased public mistrust of local government and the continued lack of transparency on the effectiveness of open records requests citywide.”
However, the mayor’s office did work with city agencies to create an online directory of records custodians with contact information and types of commonly requested records. And 19 of 24 city agencies have created online forms that people can use to submit records requests, according to the report.
Hancock’s office, O’Brien wrote, fully implemented another recommendation that it require city agencies to track data such as how many requests each agency receives, how many hours of staff time are spent responding to records requests and how much each agency charges in fees. The original audit faulted the city for not doing this, saying the data could be used to make the system more effective and efficient.
O’Brien found that the mayor’s office has addressed — or is addressing — other issues identified by the 2020 audit: The city did not consistently notify requesters when filling requests took longer than allowed by CORA; the city didn’t always fully address open records requests; agencies didn’t retain enough supporting documentation of requests; and fees and fee waivers were not consistent across city agencies.
A July 27, 2021, memo from the mayor and city attorney to city agencies sets guidelines or complying with CORA requests.
O’Brien’s follow-up did not update the status of five recommendations Hancock’s office had not agreed to implement. Those included conducting a cost-benefit analysis for creating a standardized process for receiving CORA requests, which the mayor’s office called “unnecessary.” The mayor’s office also disagreed with the auditor’s suggestion that it compile city agencies’ CORA request data and report it annually to the public.
For the 2020 audit, O’Brien compared CORA information on Denver’s website to open-records pages on the websites of Aurora, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and the counties of Arapahoe, El Paso, Jefferson and Larimer. The other governments, his office concluded, provided “more information that better informs requesters on how to submit an open records request.”
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