We’ve all heard the adage that government lags behind the pace of societal change. Federal regulators struggle to keep up with innovations in the banking industry, and intellectual property laws seem out of date in our new sharing culture. The same is true of open government laws in Colorado. While they were considered cutting-edge several decades ago, today they look like a trip back in time.
Case in point: state and local government officials do not believe they can share public records in computer-friendly formats—such as Microsoft Excel—which many of us use every day. This is because they are afraid of accidentally sharing records that are not open to the public, such as personnel files and trade secrets.
But it is no longer appropriate for a 300-page public database to be printed and handed over to the public. Coloradans need access to information in a digital format that can be easily used.
Working with a coalition of groups on the left and right, we lobbied for the passage of a bill (SB16-037) requiring records to be shared in the format in which they were created, or a similar format. Although the bill failed, it sparked a new working group—convened by the Secretary of State—tasked with modernizing the Colorado Open Records Act.
Laws regulating the transparency of private and nonprofit organizations that contract with the public sector are another example. Many government functions are now performed by private and nonprofit entities that build and run prisons, maintain our highways, and provide services for people with disabilities. We worked to pass a bill (SB16-038) which requires these organizations to be inspected by the state auditor, in order to guard against the misuse of taxpayer dollars.
Transparency in government is a cornerstone of democratic society, and is in constant need of protection and expansion. If the government is allowed to operate behind closed doors, public interest can be lost to greed and mismanagement. There is too much at stake if we allow public work to operate in the shadows.
Office: Colorado Common Cause