The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) should allow anyone to view any public record that includes information such as public funds, city ordinances, or government spending.
So, how how do you request a public record and what is the process once you submit the request?
Every city and county website has its own form to request public records. Each is structured similarly, asking for your general information (name, company, address, telephone number, and email) as well as a description of the public record you are requesting.
Municipalities vary based on how you can submit the form. Some have websites which allow you to send an electronic form, while others require a hard copy by mail or fax. Records submitted by mail, fax, courier, or e-mail are immediately given to the Public Information Officer or City Clerk to ensure a timely response.
When the public agency receives a records request, according to CORA, they should make an effort to respond within at least three days. However, this can take up to seven days if extenuating circumstances apply. The agency should provide the requestor with electronic copies or files if the requestor asks for them in that format. The agency can also ask the requestor to look at the records in person and make copies for themselves onsite.
When a CORA request requires staff to print more than 25 pages, or takes more than one hour of staff time to obtain the records, the agency can and will charge the requestor for this expense. If an agency knows that the request will be more than 25 and require more than one hour, they can provide an estimate of the cost to the requester. Agencies typically charge $0.25 per page and $20 or $30 an hour for staff time. After all of this, you should have access to the public records.
There are public agencies who comply with the request, and there are those who fight against it making extreme demands.
Kim Davis, the County Clerk in Kentucky, asked for $1,200 for printouts of her emails covering the time period when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This contradicted how the Kentucky Open Records Act requires all electronic records be available in electronic format; she did comply and forwarded the records. After significant pushback, she followed the law by allowing the records to be shared in electronic format for only $6.
When Martin Peck asked for the number of HotPlug devices (devices used to preserve data on confiscated computers) from the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense stated “there was no way to do a text search of its document system” saying it would take 15 million labor hours to do the search. But, 15 million hours is about 625,000 days and 1,712 years. This would assume that it wouldn’t be until year 3728 before the record was accessed.
Like the others, Pam Zubeck has used her right to access public records in her investigations as a reporter. It was this access that led to many revelations about public agencies. Reporters like Pam Zubeck use CORA to put public record information in the spotlight, making the public agencies act accordingly in response to public reaction.
Though some public agencies make extreme demands in order to access public records, it will be necessary to push back, forcing the agencies to comply correctly.
The Colorado Open Records Act gave Coloradans the opportunity to look at public records and ensure that public agencies are behaving ethically. When given the chance, go to your county or city’s website to and check it out for yourself. While CORA may not be up to date when it comes to digital records, it’s still a beneficial way to give the public access to public records to hold our government accountable.
Leah Thompson is a junior at Regis University studying Communications and Spanish.
Office: Colorado Common Cause
Issues: Government Accountability