For the CFOIC, revisiting 2014 reveals a somewhat troubling string of stories about issues and problems affecting government transparency in Colorado. Consider them one by one and you might not be all that concerned. But put them in a list and you could reasonably conclude that open government in the Centennial State is still a work in progress.
Colorado Open Records Act
With possible recounts no longer going forward in three counties, the 2014 election is essentially in the books. But a question lingers: Should county canvass boards, those groups of registered voters appointed to certify election results, be subject to Colorado’s Sunshine Law?
Successfully challenging a denial of public records entitles you to some portion of your attorneys’ fees even if it was a records custodian who initiated the court action, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and two other organizations argued in a friend-of-the-court brief.
Public records aren’t supposed to be prohibitively expensive – that was the goal of a new state law capping research-and-retrieval fees. So we were surprised to see a $2,440 estimate to review records from a special district in Falcon.
Following a letter from a CFOIC volunteer attorney, the Jefferson County School District reversed an earlier decision to deny a parent’s request for the names of teachers at his daughter’s high school who collectively called in sick one day last September.
Littleton Schools Superintendent Scott Murphy cited a federal student privacy law as a reason he could not answer reporters’ questions about what school officials knew about threats made by student Karl Pierson before the shooting at Arapahoe High School last December. But FERPA does not apply to adult students who are deceased, according to multiple sources which say that a student’s privacy rights lapse upon his or her death.
A 2013 report illustrated the confusing and expensive landscape of “research and retrieval” fees charged to CORA requestors by various state, county and municipal government entities. One year later, Colorado Ethics Watch and CFOIC have revisited those same government entities to see if things have improved.
To help parents, teachers, students and taxpayers better understand how to use the Colorado Open Records Act and the state’s Open Meetings Law, the CFOIC and Chalkbeat Colorado teamed up to present a lively and informative panel discussion: “Transparency 101: How to exercise your rights to information and open meetings in your school district.”
A reporter for the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank, asked for a court order that compels the state Division of Insurance to justify its refusal to release emails discussing the one-year renewal of health insurance policies not in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
A consortium of broadcast media organizations argued that an outside review of Aurora’s emergency response to the July 2012 theater shooting should be released to the public.