Approved by Colorado voters in November 1972, the Sunshine Law ushered in a new era of government transparency in our state, establishing stricter rules for open meetings at the Capitol and providing the basis for the more wide-ranging transparency law that now dictates how all public bodies statewide conduct business.
For those concerned about access to government records in Colorado, the 2022 legislative session was notable for what didn’t happen — the introduction of a bill addressing frustrating issues such as expensive fees, email retention and slow responses by law enforcement agencies.
Several of the 24 entries stood out as glaring illustrations of the barriers and attitudes journalists and members of the public sometimes encounter when they request government records or otherwise try to monitor what their public officials are doing.
Lakewood City Attorney Tim Cox called it “almost a chicken and egg situation.” For city council members to legally conduct electronic meetings – like the one they were conducting via Zoom when Cox spoke to them Monday evening – they had to pass an emergency ordinance to allow electronic meetings.
To commemorate CORA’s golden anniversary, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition asked a few Coloradans for their thoughts on what what the open records law means to them and what it has meant for the people of our state.
The Otis Telegraph calls itself “The friendly voice of Washington County” because it likes to promote the community, says co-publisher Jerry Patterson. “But every once in a while you have to step up and do things that papers are supposed to do. You have to ask the tough questions.”
The city says the Denver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Exploratory Committee, formed by Mayor Michael Hancock, is not bound by the Colorado Open Meetings Law and, therefore, it can meet however it sees fit. But there is a solid legal argument that the state’s open meetings law indeed does apply to the Winter Olympics exploratory committee. And if that’s the case, the public should be notified of all meetings and the committee should bar the public from attending only under the limited circumstances allowed by the law.
On matters affecting public information, the General Assembly did little during this year’s session to improve access. The most significant legislative win for government transparency doesn’t actually affect governments.
Colorado’s Sunshine Law is supposed to prevent more than two members of a local public body from exchanging thoughts outside of a public meeting on matters related to their jobs as policymakers. But Lakewood City Council members appear to be doing just that in a recent email provided to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
A House committee approved a Sunshine Law exception for Colorado Mountain College so that its board of trustees can make decisions electronically under limited circumstances.