Government Transparency Lagging In Denver

Gift and honoraria forms. They’re what public officials use to disclose freebies-anything from tickets, items, meals to trips-they have received from lobbyists and other organizations. They are also public records that are supposed to offer transparency in government. 

But if you’re a citizen of Denver wanting to know what perks your council members have been given in the last few months, it’s not going to be so crystal clear. Members of the Denver City Council only have to file a gift and honoraria disclosure form once a year, and only eight months after the year being reported has ended.

That means if a council representative took a gift in January of 2005, then they have until August of 2006 to report it; more than a year after the item has been paid for and received.

The same does not hold true for political arenas like the state legislature, where lawmakers are required to report gifts every quarter.

A provision in the Denver Revised Municipal Code states that “it is the intent of the council to ensure access to information that will help to prevent any city officers, employees, or candidates for municipal offices from unfairly using city offices for personal advantage; and thereby to foster public trust, which is essential to representative government.”

But by the time the reports are made available to the public, proposed legislation has long since been approved or killed, and some members might not even be in office.

Other Colorado cities have stricter regulations on what local officials can accept and when they have to disclose their freebies. In Fort Collins, council members are required to file every quarter while the city of Boulder puts financial limitations on what representatives can receive.

Even more daunting is the fact that some of the papers council members do fill out are incomplete or nearly impossible to understand.

The most recent reports requested by Colorado Confidential were for the year 2005, while those for 2006 won’t be released until later this summer. On numerous occasions dates are not given and in some cases even the gift givers were not reported. The City Council does not appear to be legally required to report such details in their disclosure forms.

That hasn’t stopped members from receiving tickets and meals from a variety of organizations and interests. It is estimated that throughout 2005, council representatives disclosed items totaling in the thousands, although since some did not report the actual value of the items they received it is hard to gage the total cost. Generally, gifts with a value over $25 are reported.

Throughout the week, Colorado Confidential will report on the gifts received by all Denver City Council members and host data taken from public records for public consumption.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at