Posts Tagged ‘Colorado’


FOI Daily Dose: Site that opens Denver checkbook should continue adding information, watchdogs say

Citizens and reporters in Denver, Colo., will no longer have to file public records requests to learn some of the ways the city spends tax dollars.

Denver city and county launched a website July 17 revealing the city’s financial reports, investments, residential- and business-property records and city-owned properties for sale, according to the Denver Post.

The site, called Transparent Denverfeatures a checkbook that will be automatically updated daily so citizens can see how the city is spending its $900 million annual budget.

“This site opens the book of city government,” Kennedy told the Post. “The goal, as the mayor indicated, is to really improve the level of trust so people can see how their tax dollars are being spent.”

Cary Kennedy, Denver’s chief financial officer, told the Post that five years of city spending data are already available, and the website has a link to the city’s annual financial report.

But some news organizations and watchdog groups say there is still critical information missing from the site.

For instance, FOX31 Denver points out that even though the website lists dollar values of expense reimbursements for officials when they travel, it does not provide specific details about what they are reimbursed for, such as airline tickets, cabs or dinners.

“I think a lot of people will say, OK you got reimbursed $1,861 for this trip, but we don’t know if you went to the Four Seasons for dinner. We don’t know if you had wine on the taxpayers dime. So how can we improve the system? So, it’s more transparent?,” investigative reporter Tak Landrock told FOX31 Denver.

FOX31 also pointed out that the website shows the city spent $1.6 million dollars using credit cards, but it does not show what they purchased with the cards.

Kennedy told FOX31 Denver that posting credit card statements could “boggle down the webpage,” but taxpayers who have questions can email the city for more information.

Employee payroll is also missing from the site, but Wil Alston, director of communications for the finance department, told the Post that taxpayers can access this information through Colorado open records requests.

Kennedy said the website will continue developing to make numbers more accessible.

Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch, a non-profit government accountability group, told FOX31 the website is a good start, but leaders should continue make information more available.

“I think you can always get more web capacity. The computers are getting more powerful and people’s internet speeds are getting better,” Toro said. “Technology is very good in this area to solve those problems.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

Durango, Colorado, officials want to ban photography of public records

A great way to cut down on the cost of obtaining public records is to make your own copy.

In the past, that would have meant bringing in your own portable photocopier or one of those 110 spy cameras like they show in old movies on late-night TV. But today, with high-resolution digital cameras, cellphone cameras and tablet computers, it’s really easy.

So easy that Durango, Colo., wants to outlaw it.

The Durango Herald reports the city is going to vote on an ordinance Tuesday to bar records requesters from taking pictures of the documents they are seeking. City Clerk Amy Philips said the practice is costing the city money, in that the staff takes time to assemble “the records and let people come in and observe the records and tag which ones they want copies of, but we’re finding out now that people are able to come in with a phone and just (photograph) the copies.

“Then we don’t retrieve the money we spent.”

Along with banning photography, the city is planning to charge people $30 an hour for records requests to cover staff time spent filling the request on top of the 25-cent fee for copies.

The Durango City Council will vote on the proposal at the June 17 meeting.

We saw a similar argument in Utah, when that state’s legislature pushed through a bill gutting the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act. One of the changes it proposed was to add overhead costs — employee benefits, building utilities, rent, etc. — to the fees charged for records.

There are a couple problems with calls to “recoup” fees for public documents.

The fees charged for copying usually go well above and beyond the actual costs. When adding the costs of paper, toner and depreciation on the photocopier, the actual cost is about 1.5 cents per copy, which explains how copy centers can charge 7 cents a copy and stay in business.

I’ve personally seen a 911 dispatch center in Utah charge $20 for a recording of an emergency call on a compact disc. Depending on where you shop, a CD can cost about 25 cents a copy, and if Apple can get away with selling songs for 99 cents, a $1.25 would be a reasonable cost.

As far as the employees’ time, filling a records request, especially if it is a request that benefits the public, is just part of their job, which the public is already paying for through their taxes. Essentially, a records requester is being asked to pay twice for the same employee.

High fees can be used as a tool to deny access, especially for people of modest means.

A real-life example of this happened when the Utah Democratic Party sought records and correspondence releated to the Republican-dominated Legislature’s redistricting efforts. The Legislature charged them almost $15,000 for three boxes.

Officials only backed down when media outlets asked for the records.

A records fee could be justified in cases where a business is making the request solely for self-interest. But bureaucrats shouldn’t use public records as a revenue stream.

FOI DAILY DOSE: Colo. governor’s cell phone records deemed private, NYT reporter fights subpoena in CIA leak case

Colorado governor’s cell phone records kept private

The Colorado Supreme Court may have handed public officials a new way to keep business discussions free from public scrutiny – make the calls on a private cell phone.

The court ruled Monday that former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s private cell phone records would remain private, crushing The Denver Post’s three-year fight to obtain the information.

In a 4-2 decision, the court decided that the records aren’t covered under the state public records law because Ritter paid for the phone personally with no state reimbursements and didn’t give billing statements to a state agency. He only kept the statements for payment reasons, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Post tried to convince the court that the phone records should be public because the governor used his private cell to make calls during business hours and to discuss official issues.

This ruling could allow other public officials to keep business matters off-the-record by discussing them via private cell phones – an allowance that could cloud government transparency efforts.

NYT reporter James Risen fights subpoena

New York Times reporter James Risen and his attorneys requested Tuesday that a court quash a grand jury subpoena that would force him to testify in the case against CIA leaker Jeffrey Sterling.

The ex-CIA officer is accused of providing Risen with classified information.

Sterling allegedly provided information on CIA sabotage efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program, which later appeared in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Risen’s attorneys argued that the subpoena represented a government effort to retaliate against the reporter for writing critically of the government and that the information sought by the subpoena was protected under the reporter’s privilege supported by the First Amendment and through federal common law.

Check out Risen’s affidavit on the issue and a response from Sterling’s attorneys also arguing against the subpoena on the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News website.

Risen’s motion to quash the subpoena is scheduled for a court hearing on July 7.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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