Let the sun shine: How open is government in Southwest Colorado?

From The Durango Herald:  When Founding Father James Madison wrote “A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives,” he was setting the stage for today’s open-record and meeting laws.

In recognition of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government and freedom of information, reporters for The Durango Herald and the Cortez Journal traveled across Southwest Colorado, visiting 14 local governmental entities in an effort to gauge their openness. Reporters were assigned to organizations they do not normally cover and did not identify themselves in the hope of approaching clerks with the same kind of anonymity as the public. The Colorado Open Records Act does not require citizens to identify themselves when making requests for information.

Their assignment? To obtain a copy of employment contracts for preselected agency heads, including town managers, fire chiefs, school superintendents and sheriffs.

The contracts and employment agreements are considered public under the Colorado Open Records Act, said Denver attorney Tom Kelley, a media lawyer whose clients include Ballantine Communications, the Herald and Journal’s parent company. Some details in the contracts, such as personal addresses, may not be public and can be redacted. Such information is not an excuse to deny access to a document, he said.

Most local agencies ultimately complied with the Colorado Open Records Act, with some officials mentioning that their organizations had discussed open-records laws after a similar Herald audit in 2011.

For this story, the governing bodies are ranked in a range from “sunny,” where few or no problems were encountered, to “cloudy,” where the records were not obtained or were only obtained with difficulty. In good news for local residents, the skies are mostly sunny in Southwest Colorado when it comes to learning what local governments are doing.

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