The Post ed­i­to­rial: You, too, can hold govern­ment ac­count­able

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

It should have been a sim­ple fix to Colorado’s Open Records Act, but in­stead it be­came a com­plex po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tion that was al­most de­railed.

Thank­fully Colorado law­mak­ers were able to wran­gle Se­nate Bill 40 back into a six-page, man­age­able piece of leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing that govern­ment en­ti­ties re­lease records in dig­i­tal for­mats that are search­able and sortable if the data or in­for­ma­tion is al­ready in that for­mat.

State Sens. John Ke­falas and Bob Gard­ner and Rep. Dan Pabon made a few con­ces­sions in the bill to get it through a di­vided leg­is­la­ture on the is­sue, but all of the changes seem, at face value, to be rea­son­able. We are glad the law­mak­ers aban­doned a ver­sion of the bill that we wor­ried had be­come so heav­ily amended it could have opened up the flood­gates for de­nials to le­git­i­mate pub­lic-records re­quests.

Ev­ery­one should care that law­mak­ers were able to find a so­lu­tion to this prob­lem. As tech­nol­ogy ad­vances, it has be­come eas­ier for the pub­lic to be watch­dogs of their own govern­ment, and as govern­ment has grown and the num­ber of jour­nal­ists has de­creased, the Fourth Es­tate can no longer do it alone. We need your help.

Won­der what your lo­cal wa­ter dis­trict is up to? Thank­fully, those en­ti­ties are al­most al­ways sub­ject to CORA as quasi-gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and you can re­quest their data on things re­gard­ing wa­ter qual­ity or user fees and rates.

That’s what Carl Paul­son did last sum­mer when he re­quested data from Den­ver Wa­ter and plot­ted graphs to il­lus­trate to com­mis­sion­ers that the high­est wa­ter-users were get­ting a break on their bills un­der a new rate struc­ture while those us­ing less wa­ter were pay­ing more than be­fore.

Won­der how your school dis­trict dis­trib­utes money be­tween schools? That data should be avail­able in a us­able for­mat — un­less your school dis­trict is still us­ing ac­tual books for ac­count­ing pur­poses.

Data can not only il­lu­mi­nate pub­lic pol­icy im­pacts but can in­form and guide them. Paul­son’s dis­cov­er­ies would not have been pos­si­ble with­out us­able data that was pro­vided in an elec­tronic for­mat.

Now that the law clearly re­quires data be pro­vided in a us­able for­mat when re­quested and al­ready stored in that man­ner, we hope more and more tax­pay­ers and vot­ers be­come dili­gent about reg­u­larly check­ing in on the many gov­ern­ments in our lives.

That’s what open-govern­ment ad­vo­cate Jeff Roberts is calling for in the wake of pas­sage of SB 40. Roberts, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Colorado Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Coali­tion, said he’s ad­vo­cat­ing for the pub­lic to use their open-records rights when they want in­for­ma­tion about what their govern­ment is up to.

We echo that sen­ti­ment.

And we hope that govern­ment en­ti­ties honor the in­tent of the law in good faith and don’t use im­por­tant ex­cep­tions in the law to skirt hav­ing to pro­vide data. For ex­am­ple, the law now in­cludes an ex­emp­tion for “sys­tem op­er­a­tional data of such as­sets that would be use­ful to a per­son in plan­ning an at­tack … .”

Agen­cies would be wise not to abuse this ex­cep­tion just be­cause of­fi­cials don’t want to re­veal that the “sys­tem” is in­ef­fi­cient or leak­ing or dan­ger­ous.

Go flex that open records act mus­cle when you need data about how your govern­ment is op­er­at­ing.

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