Editorial: AG candidates commit to strengthening state’s open records act

The Durango Herald: George Brauchler, the district attorney in Colorado’s 18th Judicial District, recalls reading about a case in Texas in which public records were requested, when something caught his attention.

Reporters and others request records all the time, typically under a state freedom of information statute. In Colorado, that’s the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA.

Say, for example, the Herald hears that a city employee has been fired for embezzlement. We might send Durango’s attorney a request, referencing CORA and saying we want to see any documents that detail the theft. And then, suppose the city tells us that it will not release the information we requested because it is a confidential personnel matter.

In Colorado, if we feel the city records are being improperly withheld – because we are talking about the theft of the people’s money, which should trump the thief’s privacy – we face a steep hill of having to pay an attorney to sue the city, essentially. The steepness of the hill has ramifications far beyond our ability to get one story.

If records are easier to conceal, any government is at risk of flouting the will of the people, or of being a poor custodian of their money.

In Texas, under its state public information act, as in some other states, if an agency wants to withhold information, it first would have to make a case for the denial to the state attorney general, who then issues a ruling. What this means is that the burden on the requester is lessened. If the people are diligent about watching government, there will be less wrongdoing and more transparency.

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