Cole-Wist-Speaking.jpg

Ernest LuningErnest LuningNovember 3, 20179min14100

Cole Wist, Colorado's assistant House Republican leader, says he’s “thinking seriously” about running for state attorney general in next year's election if GOP incumbent Cynthia Coffman decides to run for governor, and he expects to announce his plans within weeks, he told Colorado Politics. Coffman said months ago she was weighing a bid for governor rather than run for a second term but has yet to declare her intentions.


Screen-Shot-2017-08-13-at-9.07.28-PM.jpg

Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 14, 20173min1260

Leave it to the scrappy Cortez Journal to push the issue about clean restaurants and open records in Montezuma County. And now the county is ready to address a larger problem.

Staff writer Jim Mimiaga provides a master class is expecting the state’s open records law to mean something, even as he fairly reports the staffing problems the Montezuma County Health Department is facing.

Read the story here.

When readers asked their local newspaper why it didn’t run county restaurant inspection scores, the Journal asked the health department for the public information. Bobbi Lock, who runs the health department, asked for  money, $518.85 for the latest batch. And the records the newspaper asked for in May won’t be available until the end of September.

The Journal’s lawyer, First Amendment ace Steve Zansberg, said that’s  illegal, exceeding what the law allows the government to charge under the Colorado Open Records Act.

The health department even wanted to charge for the couple of hours it took discussing the request and sketching out an estimate. Zansberg said there was basis in the law to support charging for that.

Mimiaga wrote with depth and fairness about the heavy workload the rural department faces with just one inspector, who would compile and provide the restaurant inspection reports. The charges to the newspaper would presumably pay to bring in some help or pay some overtime.

The newspaper asked for a year’s worth of restaurant inspection reports for 143 establishments in Montezuma and Dolores counties.

“She is overwhelmed, and there is not enough time in the day to take care of everything as it is,” Lock said about the inspector in the Journal’s story. “Five dollars per report will help pay for the additional staff time to generate the reports.”

The Journal updated its story over the weekend to say Montezuma County Commissioners will meet Monday to discuss staffing shortages in the Health Department. The health department could ask to raise its inspection fees to hire some help, the Journal reported.


JenaGriswold-W.jpg

Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 14, 20177min1552

Democratic Secretary of State candidate Jena Griswold blasted Republican incumbent Wayne Williams on Friday for agreeing to go along with a White House election commission's request for voter data even as privacy advocates challenged its legality and thousands of Colorado voters were canceling their registrations. But a spokeswoman for Williams said the secretary has simply been following the law by treating  the state's voter rolls as public records.


Ossof-Handel-AP.jpg

Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 4, 201726min7429

A group of Georgia voters and a Colorado-based watchdog organization filed a lawsuit late Monday asking a judge to overturn the results of last month’s 6th Congressional District special election and scrap the state’s voting system, Colorado Politics has learned. The complaint, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, alleges that state and local election officials ignored warnings for months that Georgia’s centralized election system — already known for potential security flaws and lacking a paper trail to verify results — had been compromised and left unprotected from intruders since at least last summer, casting doubt on Republican Karen Handel’s 3.8-point win over Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race in the nation’s history.


Martin Luther King Jr_BW.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 15, 20174min590

Legislation affecting public records and our access to them typically gets eclipsed by the bigger-ticket bills involving transportation, schools and the like. Understandable; the debate over government transparency is seldom sexy.

Yet, it’s not just us newsfolk who benefit from efforts to open up government, and it’s not just us who lose out when government slams the door on our right to know. In a myriad of ways, every voter, every taxpayer, every member of society is affected.

Clear enough? OK, now that we’ve made that heartfelt if ritual appeal, we’ll step off the soapbox and yield it to that diehard defender of public access to government, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition — which has issued it’s take on transparency issues in the legislative session that ended last week.

At the top of the list was Senate Bill 40, which actually did get some hang time and media coverage in the legislature for a few reasons, as we previously reported here and here as well as at other points in its legislative journey. After some brief controversy over a political tangent involving the legislation, it passed the legislature and now awaits Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature.

The Coalition elaborates on the merits of the bill — which it calls “a long-overdue update of the Colorado Open Records Act,” aka CORA — providing practical details about its use by the public:

The new CORA provisions, assuming the governor OKs them, will clarify the public’s right to obtain digital public records in useful file formats that can be searched or sorted.

When you request public records kept in a “sortable” format, you’ll be entitled to the records in a format – like a comma-separated-values (CSV) file – that can easily be imported into a spreadsheet. CORA won’t allow a records custodian to give you a PDF or pages printed from that spreadsheet.

For “searchable” records such as emails, you should expect to get the records in a searchable format instead of an image-only PDF.

The coalition’s overview covers a range of other public-records and open-government legislation considered in the 2017 session, including a bill already signed by the governor to mediate disputes over access to public records; as well as bills on judicial branch records, juvenile crime records and more. Some of the measures made it through the process; some didn’t.

Read the coalition’s full review; here’s the link again. Now that the blockbuster bills that grabbed headlines throughout the session are history, you might find it worth your while to read up on all the obscure legislation that could make it easier for you to keep an eye on public officials and agencies — especially when we in the news media aren’t paying attention.

 

 


11Romney at DEvelyn.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 10, 20175min700

When even an elected city council member — a former city attorney, no less — has trouble laying his hands on public documents he has requested from his own staff, it raises questions: About whether the staffers are in compliance with state public records laws; about whether the city needs to tweak its own rules on the subject; about whether the state law itself — the Colorado Open Records Act — has all the teeth it needs to get the job done.

Some Aurora City Council members have had those and other questions, especially after one of their peers, Ward IV City Councilman Charlie Richardson, made a records request of Aurora City Hall not long ago for documents related to to a traffic sign along South Havana Street. Richardson was quoted a price for the labor it would take to retrieve the documents — that’s allowed under local and state laws — but later was told the cost had nearly tripled. As the Aurora Sentinel’s Quincy Snowdon reports:

Initially estimated to cost about $180 in staff time and printing fees, Richardson became incensed after the estimated price ballooned to nearly $500. He also took issue with the amount of information that was redacted from the documents his request generated.

Richardson didn’t hold back on the subject at a council workshop last Saturday, Snowdon reports:

“May I be so bold to suggest that the basis of the CORA law in Colorado is open access to documents?” Richardson said at the recent meeting at Meadow Hills Golf Course. “It is not supposed to be a minefield in the redaction game; chutes and ladders, OK? … God help any other citizen in this city who tries to go the CORA route.”

Some other council members joined in:

“I have huge issues if one of the staff tell me, ‘Excuse me, that’s confidential,’” Councilwoman Barb Cleland said. “You’re a staff member — you just email that information. It’s confidential? Who’s your freakin’ boss? I am.”

Councilwoman Renie Peterson of Ward II has been critical of her communications with staff for several months after she learned that city workers had been negotiating a potential lease with a homeless advocacy group in her ward.

“We’re the policymakers, we expect all the information to be given to us by our staff so that we can make a responsible decision,” she said. “… We are left out in left field (and) we know nothing about what’s going on or what took place until we know about it from outside of our organization.”

The session concluded with Mayor Steve Hogan asking staff to get the records issue back on the front burner before a council policy committee to make recommendations for changes.

As Snowdon explains, other internal channels are available to council members seeking information from the city bureaucracy, but Richardson, who has filed other records requests, contends those alternatives have yielded incomplete information.

As Snowdon also reports, much-debated legislation still pending in the General Assembly today — its last day in session — could make things easier by requiring government entities to provided requested documents in an electronically searchable format. That could sidestep some of the need for retrieving cumbersome hard copies of records. Senate Bill 40 is awaiting action on the House floor.