Papers Latch On To Disclosure Exposure

Voters may have elected new officials for the Denver City Council in June, but only now are members of the public able view council lobbying records from over a year ago.

Both dailies in the Mile High City have recently penned articles regarding disclosure reports showing gifts and freebies council representatives received in 2006–an apparent change from previous disclosure periods where archived newspaper articles do not seem to mention such perks.

But one fact left unmentioned in both articles is that while Denver has very strict ethics regulations, the act of disclosing gifts lags behind other laws in transparency. Colorado Confidential reported in May that Denver City Council members are required to file gift reports annually, a complete eight months after the year being reported has ended.

That means if a council representative were to dine with a lobbyist in January of 2006, they wouldn’t have to report it until August of 2007–more than a year after the meal in question.

Such practices are not the status quo for other officials. The city of Fort Collins and the state legislature  mandate that reports be filed quarterly, for example.

When metro ethics experts were asked about the problem, they whittled down to the act of disclosure:

Denver’s got a model ethics code and it’s one of the strongest gift codes I think throughout the state, and it’s really a model in terms of what gifts should be reported and how to do that,” says Elena Nunez, with Colorado Common Cause, a local group that examines government transparency issues…

“It seems like where they’re lacking is in the actual disclosure mechanism, because there’s not a good system in place for timely disclosure that the public can access,” Nunez says. “To have a good strong ethics code you need to have the disclosure as well, otherwise the public doesn’t have adequate information about what’s happening.”

Michael Henry, Staff Director of Denver’s Board Of Ethics, also described how the law works:

“The Code Of Ethics regulates what type of gifts can be given to whom in the city. But there’s an entirely separate ordinance, a financial disclosure ordinance, that regulates the reporting by city employees and city officials,” Henry says. “Many cities and states combine those two functions into one office.”

While predictable council freebies like event tickets and travel expenses are being reported by the mainstream media, the backbone of the issue remains: public records aren’t getting to the public in a timely manner.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

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 erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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