Denver will reform its open record process after an audit found the city is less transparent than neighboring local governments and is sometimes slow to provide the public with documents requested under the Colorado Open Records Act.
The city charges inconsistent fees for records, does not always fully address requests, doesn’t consistently track how much time and money it spends on fulfilling records, and fails to provide clear guidance to citizens on how to make requests, according to a report issued Thursday by the Denver Auditor’s Office.
Auditor Timothy O’Brien made 14 recommendations for improving the city’s handling of public records. Denver officials agreed to carry out nine of the recommended changes by the end of September, according to the report.
“The city’s records are really the people of Denver’s records,” O’Brien said in a statement Thursday. “Unless prohibited by law, we should be making it as easy and clear as possible for people to find information about what their government is doing.”
Because of the audit, Denver has agreed to create online forms for submitting CORA requests and will require city agencies to track data on the handling of requests — such as how much the agency charged and how many hours were spent filling requests. The city will publish an FAQ and additional guidance for requesters on its website and will create a centralized public list of people who are responsible for handling record requests at various agencies.
Denver will also increase its training and guidance for departments and agencies on how to handle requests, according to the audit.
“These are improvements and enhancements to the guidance we already provide, but we are always open to improving access and transparency in the public interest,” said Theresa Marchetta, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.
O’Brien recommended the mayor’s office annually compile information about CORA requests — including how many the city handled and how much money the city spent filling requests — but city officials rejected that proposal. Officials responded that individual agencies would track that information and it doesn’t need to be centrally maintained by the mayor’s office.
The mayor’s office also won’t issue guidance to Denver City Council or the Clerk and Recorder’s Office on updating their fees to align with state law, because the mayor’s office doesn’t oversee those offices, according to a response to the audit filed by the city.
Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said Thursday that he was glad to see Denver is willing to make most of the changes outlined in the 59-page audit.
“This is a responsibility of government to make sure that the public can have access to records of government,” he said. “So whatever the government can do to improve that process, it’s an important thing to have happen.”
But he added there are some concerns about Denver’s open records practices that were not addressed in the report, including the grounds on which the city denies some requests.
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