Could more transparency come to Colorado this year?

Could more transparency come to Colorado this year?

 

Colorado’s Open Records Act is an old law with some outdated provisions in it.

Last year, state legislation failed that would help align the law with our changing times and technology.

So this year lawmakers will try again— and this time they’ll have help from a key ally, the Secretary of State’s office. Part of the reason lawmakers are looking to refresh our public records law is because of a battle between The Coloradoan newspaper and Colorado State University. The Fort Collins paper wanted a digital copy of the school’s annual salary increases. The school said no because they already published a printed copy of the 4,000-person database for public view in a library. That was enough, the university said, so it denied the paper’s request for a digital copy. (A great aside here: The newspaper photographed the printed copy, digitized it, and published the 143-page document on its website.)

This year’s bill, if passed, would allow the public access to copies of digitized database records in a “machine-readable” format, “even if the government also has a copy in paper or other static format,” The Coloradoan reports. A working group of open-government advocates and bureaucrats huddled for months to work out potential kinks. The Coloradoan’s editor, Lauren Gustus, was involved in that effort. A hearing for the new bill could come as early as next week at the Capitol.

Gustus this week penned a first-person column headlined “First Amendment matters; here’s what I’m doing,” explaining her involvement. “Some people might wonder if it is my place to speak in support of legislation at a time when we are discussing daily how to best offer balanced coverage for you,” she wrote. “Just as it is our responsibility to fight abuses of power and champion issues for those who do not have a voice, it is also our duty to work for improved transparency.”

On Monday, The Denver Post editorialized in favor of the bill.

From the Post:

The fiscal note on SB 40 — which explains the costs associated with passage of the bill — is better than zero. The state’s nonpartisan staff note it would actually increase state revenue. The bill allows entities to charge a reasonable fee, not exceeding the cost of the work, for time spent converting records into a specific data type or the time it takes to remove information in the data that is not public.

In 2015, Colorado earned an ‘F’ grade in the State Integrity Investigation by the Center for Pubic Integrity (a project on which I worked) for the category of public access to information.

Speaking of open records… The Colorado Independent used a request to get a pretty damning document

Our editor Susan Greene got hold of a report that included a survey gauging how deputies felt about the Denver sheriff’s department. The University of Colorado-Denver conducted the survey on behalf of the city. As Greene writes in her must-read piece, the sheriff “received the 72-page final report in early December, but delayed sharing the results for more than a month until, facing internal pressure, he agreed to do so last week. The Independent obtained a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.”

What did the survey find among deputies? “Overwhelmingly, they feel the Sheriff’s Department lacks leadership, trains them inadequately, and keeps its jails dangerously overcrowded,” Greene writes. Read the rest of the story, which includes illuminating context and history about the sheriff’s department over the years. She also followed up with a frightening piece about surging violence in Denver’s jails.

The Denver Post calls Trump a liar on its editorial page

There’s a scene in the great documentary “Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story” where former news anchor Sam Donaldson is talking about how in an interview it can be hard to call someone a liar— even while they are lying to you. “It is very difficult to say that’s a lie,” Donaldson says. “You just can’t do that for a whole variety of reasons when you’re in a television interview and a great mass of people are watching, and they know this. They’ll just sit there and lie to you.”

We’ll see whether that assertion holds up in broadcast coverage of our new president. But in print, a recent editorial by The Denver Post stated President Donald Trump is “lying”— in a headline. Provocative? Yes. Probably the point? Also yes. The piece also comes with a video of editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett saying Trump told “outright lies” during the campaign, which helped fuel his success. “We felt like, look, this is no way to start. And if we have any say at all what we would like to say is cut it out. Stop that. Start acting like the president of the United States. The people of the United States of America deserve a president that tells the truth. You think about it: Part of the job of being a journalist is to catch politicians and elected officials in telling mistruths or lies.”

Lies. Not “alternative facts.” Lies.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Greeley Tribune fronted a feature about conventional farmers going organic. The Loveland Reporter-Herald had a piece about a potential local tax increase for a rec center, fire stations and roads. The Longmont Times-Call profiled local groups organizing a resistance to Donald Trump. The Pueblo Chieftain reported on an editorial board meeting with local utility officials. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on a jail death that could have been prevented. The Steamboat Pilot & Today looked at the history of a local college. The Boulder Daily Camera reported on local protests of Trump’s immigration ban. The Aspen Times reported on the future of The Aspen Institute under Trump. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins looked at how retirement shortages hit minorities the hardest. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported on a renaissance in the city’s west side. Vail Daily wondered whether Trump’s infrastructure plan would aid I-70. The Durango Herald reported how Planned Parenthood is under fire from state and federal lawmakers. The Denver Post revealed Colorado has no savings from oil-and-gas taxes while North Dakota saved $4 billion.

For the personnel file: KDNK in Carbondale has a new station manager

Gavin Dahl, who served as KDNK community radio’s news director for the past several months, is now the new station manager, The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reported this week. The 35-year-old started Feb. 1. This stood out to me from a write-up in The Sopris Sun, a weekly in Carbondale.

His biggest concern, he said, is the possibility that the new administration of U.S. Pres. Donald Trump will strip funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supplies about a quarter of the station’s annual budget. He is hopeful that his earlier work with the Rocky Mountain Community Radio Network organization will help KDNK fight back against any such efforts by federal authorities.

“While there are members of Congress who want to target the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and there are others who want to defend it, we just have to focus on doing our local thing,” Dahl told me when I followed up with him about it. “We know that it wouldn’t affect the budget until several years out if they are able to go through with it, but I think it’s just a reminder of the importance of focusing on the local, the regional, what we can do when we work together, like RMCR, a coalition of noncommercial Colorado radio stations, which funds a statehouse reporter.” In its coverage, KDNK broadcasts scoops, mixes in regular features about local artists, and does bilingual youth media training.

I got to know Dahl a bit during his previous work at Denver’s Open Media Foundation. He cares about local reporting and the media industry, and was always super willing to help local journalists in any way he could.

A local newspaper called on a county council to disband, and a local resident wasn’t having in

Oh no they didn’t. That was the message a reader in Weld County had for The Greeley Tribune after the newspaper’s editorial board wrote that it’s time for that august governing body to just GTFO. Well, the paper put it nicer than that. “We think it’s time — probably well past time, actually — the Weld County Council disbands,” the editorial read. “We have called for the dissolution of the council before, calling it a do-nothing board that lacks the initiative or the backbone to fulfill its mission.” Welp. So they did it again. But this time, Van Beber, a Weld County resident, former Tribune Newspapers in Education coordinator, and ex-publisher/owner of the Greeley and Fort Collins Gold Messenger, fired back.

In a column the paper published a few days later, Beber wrote, “As a pillar of the ideals of democracy, The Tribune should recognize the necessity to oversee officials in elected positions who affect the daily lives of the citizens. The Tribune does so by covering the facts as they occur, but the council is the ONLY official body in the county that has watchful eyes on our commissioners. The Tribune’s call to disband the council is irresponsible.”

This paragraph from her about the Weld County Commission kind of makes me jealous of any reporter who has the beat covering it:

The citizens of Weld County elect our commissioners with the faith they will balance fairly the rights of property owners with the growth of commercial and business interests. For years now, it has been apparent this is a task the commissioners struggle to do transparently, with solid ethics or, dare we say, maturity. In fact, “F” bombs launched from one elected official to another at county commissioner meetings, vapid emails and personal comments that are beneath their title, and veiled threats and outright hostility all show balancing the needs of the county clearly comes last and personal agendas come first.

Maybe both governing bodies should be disbanded. Now look at me trolling for my own nastygram.

 

Photo by Siri Hardeland for Creative Commons in Flickr.

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

1 Comment

  1. Adam Dorritie on said:

    I understand that you support this bill. I do, too. What I don’t support is the Denver Post’s, and through your quoting, your own, dissembling on the financial implications of these changes.

    To quote the Post’s statement that the bill’s fiscal note indicates a possible revenue increase to the state without appropriate context is misleading at best, and deceptive at worst. Yes, government agencies may receive additional revenue for requests that require compensation. What you and the Post fail to mention, however, is that the same fiscal note also indicates that additional expenditures may be required by those same agencies to handle increased workload due to these more complex requests. Also, you fail to mention that, although the work is paid, if no additional employees are hired to handle requests, the employees responding to requests likely must put off other work that they would ordinarily do in order to complete this “paid” work. Therefore, there is no benefit to an agency which has had an employee’s time paid for, but during which period, that employee is essentially working for someone else.

    I believe that many governments unnecessarily deny requests or obfuscate CORA replies by doing things like taking spreadsheets, printing them as PDFs, and then mailing them to requestors. That’s ridiculous, and, I think, a violation of the public trust. That doesn’t mean that it’s OK to pretend that having a better system doesn’t have costs or, worse, to spout some nonsense that agencies charging for time are somehow making money off the deal.

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