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Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition

Highlights from the blog and news feed
Mar. 27, 2014
Newsletter of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance of groups and individuals dedicated to ensuring the transparency of state and local governments in Colorado by promoting freedom of the press, open courts and open access to government records and meetings.

Watch CFOIC's Sunshine Week panel: How to get your hands on public records

CFOIC and KUSA-TV hosted a Sunshine Week panel for citizens and journalists on access to public records. Moderator Kyle Clark led panelists Melissa Blasius, Joel Dyer, Keli Rabon and Steve Zansberg through a lively discussion. Couldn't be there? Watch a video of the entire presentation on our blog.

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Media consortium and CFOIC secure court records access in Owens death-penalty case

In a victory for public access to court records, an Arapahoe County judge ordered the unsealing of transcripts in the case against death-row inmate Sir Mario Owens.

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Using state public records laws to cover health exchanges

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon of Health News Colorado says the trick to getting records from Colorado’s health exchange is to make relatively narrow requests. If the request is just right, officials must supply the information within three business days.

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Senate passes CORA bill, adds amendment to charge all requesters equally

A bill that caps research-and-retrieval fees for public records at $30 per hour passed the Colorado Senate with an amendment requiring that costs be the same for everyone.

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Colorado Senate gives initial nod to bills regulating CORA fees and online mug shots

A revised version of the mug shot bill won initial approval in the Colorado Senate, while state senators also gave a preliminary nod to amended legislation on open-records fees.

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Passive surveillance bill approved unanimously by Colorado Senate

The passive surveillance bill is close to being on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk. The measure, which mandates the purging of most images captured by government cameras after three years, won unanimous approval in the Colorado Senate.

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Sponsor kills school board executive-sessions bill because support in Senate fell short

A controversial bill to require the electronic recording of all portions of school board executive sessions was killed in a Senate committee at the request of the sponsor.

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Judge orders Lake County commissioners to release tapes of executive sessions

From the Herald-Democrat (Leadville):  Fifth Judicial District Judge Wayne Patton ordered on Monday, March 24, that the Lake County Commissioners release the tapes for a pair of “executive sessions” the board held on Feb. 19 and 20, 2013.

In October, the Herald filed suit against the commissioners asking for the tapes because it felt the meetings were held illegally. Prior to filing the suit, the Herald had sent several letters to the commissioners requesting the tapes.

In his decision, Patton also ruled  the Herald was entitled to reasonable costs and attorney fees from the county.

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Editorial:  Council excludes public when meeting behind closed doors

From The Gazette (Colorado Springs):  We hear a lot from the City Council about the need to include the public in nearly all matters of public process. It’s an attractive, popular and ethical message that deserves support.

The council majority has highlighted its open process mentality with a false narrative that says City for Champions, a community proposal for four developments to increase tourism, has been planned in secret. Of course, the council neglects to acknowledge the dozens of public meetings that have encouraged public input. The council members have failed to document the insinuated smoke-filled room in which decisions are made without involvement.

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Aspen ordered to pay $195,630 to elections watchdog Marilyn Marks

From the Aspen Daily News:  Aspen City Council will pay an attorney fees award of $195,630 to Marilyn Marks, who sued the municipal government over access to voted ballots in the 2009 election.

A district court judge on Friday issued an order granting the amount, following a hearing in January when the two sides argued over what constituted a “reasonable” fee. The court order says the fee will accrue 8 percent interest from March 21. Aspen City Attorney Jim True said that the city could have the check ready by Wednesday, which would put the total amount plus interest at $195,844.

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Editorial:  SW Colorado governments show improved attention to transparency

From The Durango Herald:  In observance of Sunshine Week, The Durango Herald and the Cortez Journal tested local government agencies’ understanding of and commitment to their legal responsibility under the Colorado Open Records Act. Local residents should be pleased there were few problems and a generally improved climate of transparency.

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Sky-Hi News grades Grand County, towns in first Sunshine audit

From Sky-Hi News (Grand County): What makes government transparent?

That answer involves many, many layers of case law, legislation, expectation, ideology, opinion, awareness and even attitude — too many layers, in fact, to deliberate here.

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Perl: The rising cost of public records

From The Colorado Independent:  It’s hard enough for folks to stay informed about what our government is doing – the demands of work, family, and binge-watching Netflix can take most of our time and energy. Even when Coloradans make an effort to educate themselves on important issues in our communities, they face roadblocks to information.

In many counties, budgets and spending information aren’t posted online, and are only available during office hours. Court records in death penalty cases have been sealed, even though journalists reported from the courtroom during those trials. Government officials operate under “read then delete” email retention policies, erasing messages that helped form major policy decisions.

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Roberts: Taking the time to educate the public about the importance of open government

From The Gazette (Colorado Springs):  “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Louis Brandeis wrote these words a century ago, before his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, to note the power of publicity as a cure for “social and industrial diseases” like the inequities fostered by the corporate monopolies of his time.

Today all states have “sunshine laws,” a catch-all term for statutes requiring openness in government – rules meant to guarantee access to public records and proceedings. Justice Brandeis would probably approve: Shed light on the workings of government and society is better off.

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Zansberg: A call to citizens to hold governments accountable

From The Denver Post:  Two court rulings last week speak loudly about the power of public information in a democracy.

The Illinois Court of Appeals said the city of Chicago must make available for public inspection reports of alleged police brutality and other acts of official misconduct by Chicago police. The court reaffirmed a 2009 Illinois Supreme Court ruling that police officers have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” with respect to internal-affairs investigation files that focus on their on-duty conduct, and that the public is entitled to monitor how law enforcement agencies police their own ranks.

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Week focuses on letting sun shine on government, public records

From The Gazette (Colorado Springs):  It might have seemed like a small thing this month when The Gazette corrected private gun sale background check numbers from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, but as is often the case in journalism, there’s a story behind the story.

Questions arose in early February about the accuracy of numbers released by the CBI showing that since a law went into effect in July requiring background checks on private gun sales more than 6,000 of those private checks had been conducted.

The CBI refused to answer those questions directly.

Without Colorado’s Open Records Act (CORA) – a portion of state statute that guarantees public access to almost all government documents – the whole truth behind those statistics would not have been revealed.

Read more.

DA won't file charges against Poudre school district over deleted records

From The Coloradoan (Fort Collins):  The Larimer County district attorney has said no criminal charges “could or should” be filed after a top-level school district administrator told employees to destroy records sought by parents about their son.

District Attorney Cliff Riedel’s involvement this month is the latest in a three-year case that has raised concern about Poudre School District’s transparency with parents and taxpayers. Seeking justice after a years-long of legal fight, the boy’s father filed an evidence tampering complaint with Fort Collins police in February.

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Editorial: Require recording of all school board sessions

From The Denver Post:  What a shame that a school board transparency bill, a matter of simplicity and common sense, fell victim to heavy lobbying.

One of the sponsors, state Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, asked her peers to kill the bill Wednesday since she didn’t have enough votes to get it through the Senate.

The measure contained the hardly radical requirement that school boards fully record what goes on behind closed doors during executive session.

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Thompson school board gives direction on public input policy

From the Reporter-Herald (Loveland):  Wednesday’s script for the Thompson School District Board of Education meeting followed the recent pattern.

The minority members of the board asked to allow public comment at Wednesday night’s work session, alleging flagrant violations of board policy by the majority. That motion failed by a 4-3 vote, prompting one attendee to stand up and shout at Board President Bob Kerrigan, who then asked the police officer in the back of the boardroom to remove him.

At issue: The minority members said they wanted to hear from the public, and the majority wanted to wait until the entire board had an updated, clarified public comment policy with which to operate.

Read more.

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition's efforts to protect the FOI rights of Coloradans rely on membership dues, grants and gifts. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation or becoming a member. Thank you!
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