Opinion: It’s your right to know

Rio Blanco Herald Times: I found myself in yet another journalistic quandary this week. I received an inflammatory letter from one elected official accusing another elected official and an employee of making a unilateral decision to spend taxpayer dollars to investigate the letter writer’s department following complaints. However, since the letter did not include any verifiable documentation and was potentially libelous, I opted not to print it. It may “go public” some other way, according to the author, but it won’t be printed here without facts being checked and the story being researched.

If statements are made in a public meeting, that’s documented. Things that occur outside a public meeting have to be tracked down. So, we have filed a Colorado Open Records Act request to obtain the necessary documentation. I hope our interim county attorney will appreciate the value of shutting down the rumor mill by releasing actual facts. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, since there was much discussion about the “Sunshine Law” last week, we’re including additional information about the Colorado Open Meetings Act and Colorado Open Records Act, aka Sunshine Laws, in this week’s paper. Sunshine Laws were enacted “to enhance public accessibility to documented records for all meetings and information about general proceedings and decision-making processes.” (encyclopedia.com) Sunshine laws emphasize transparency and accountability.

The first Sunshine Laws were enacted in Utah in 1898, followed by Florida in 1905. Watergate provided a catalyst for other states, including Colorado, to enact their own Sunshine Laws. The Colorado Sunshine Law was first passed in 1972 and modified in 1996.

As comments on last week’s article and editorial began to appear on Facebook, I contacted the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC) for feedback.

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