Cross Currents

Public documents warrant 21st century approach

Column by Bill Christopher
Posted 2/15/17

Public documents that are created and compiled by tax-supported entities such as school districts, municipalities and counties should be easily accessible for the public, newspapers and other …

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Cross Currents

Public documents warrant 21st century approach


Public documents that are created and compiled by tax-supported entities such as school districts, municipalities and counties should be easily accessible for the public, newspapers and other interested groups.

Obviously, confidential information such as employee personnel records is an exception to this statement. In Colorado, we have what is known as CORA or the Colorado Open Records Act, which addresses the public's right to access documents and compiled data. While there are exceptions to this mandate, such as "attorney-client privileged information," most information is accessible.

CORA was enacted by the state Legislature in 1969. As we know, computers and electronic-formatted documents, spreadsheets and the like have exploded in quantity for both public and private organizations since this time. While microfilm and microfiche were state-of-the-art back then, digital data has swept by these former modes of storing and retrieving documents and data.

Digital format and confidential information

However, CORA has not kept up with the changing times as far as clear and concise wording that requires taxing entities to provide digitized records in useful formats to the public. Senate Bill 40 would update CORA and make the law truly a 21st century law. Formatting of the requested record is a key consideration.

For example, email and spreadsheets would need to be provided in the same format as originally structured. This would mean that the taxing entity could no longer get away with printing out hundreds of pages of records from a data base and say that it has met CORA requirements. If a document contains confidential information, the proposed law would simply mandate that the confidential portion be removed by the keeper of the documents and then provide the balance of the information. Seems pretty simple to me.

Past incidents confirm need to change

There are adequate horror stories from the past that document the need to update CORA to make it compatible with today's technology and easier access for public interests. I can personally recite a couple of such stories involving Westminster Public Schools back in the day when then Superintendent of Schools Roberta Selleck was spending $90 million on the "build it they will come" Westminster High School. Let's hope Senate Bill 40 is successful this year after last year's failed attempt. Thanks to the Secretary of State's Office, the subject Senate Bill is a bipartisan endeavor this year.

Federal Heights mayor recall defeated

The voters have spoken. The Feb. 7 special election in Federal Heights, which pertained to the possible recall of Mayor Daniel Dick and Mayor Pro Tem John Hamlin, was decided. The recall vote pertaining to Mayor Dick failed on a vote of 405 for and 658 against. So, that outcome should put the recall efforts of special interests in Federal Heights to rest (at least for a while). Mayor Pro Tem Hamlin resigned prior to the election and those votes were not counted. He had recently sold his house and is moving out of town. City Council will now need to appoint a replacement.

Support for mayor and program

As you may recall, the key issue that motivated special interests to force the recall election centered on the city's Residential Inspection Program. It covers rental properties that are single-family dwellings including mobile homes.

The election resulted in 62 percent of those who voted supporting the mayor and keeping him in office. While it would be questionable to state that all 62 percent are hearty supporters of the inspection program, I believe it is accurate to say that this program was at the heart of why residents voted the way they did.

Given this connection between the mayor and the program, I find the outcome to be a vote of support for both the mayor and the inspection program. Such a result is impressive given the nature of a program that allows the city to inspect inside people's homes, which are rental property. Such enforcement-type programs always seem to have a group against such programs arguing invasion of privacy, unconstitutional aspects or excessive government intervention.

Hopefully, now the issue has been put to rest and renters can be assured that decent and safe housing will continue to prevail in Federal Heights.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Bill Christopher


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