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Ethics Commission Seeks to Narrow Rules for Accessing Public Records

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, located in the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Complex, will consider public comments on its records access policy on Feb. 12. (Colorado Judicial Branch)
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, located in the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Complex, will consider public comments on its records access policy on Feb. 12. (Colorado Judicial Branch)
February 2, 2018

DENVER – The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission has created a set of rules for how the news media and the public can access its records – and is getting some pushback about them.

The proposed rules differ from those established under the Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA. Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, believes the current state law should apply to the agency charged with investigating public officials accused of misconduct.

He asks, "The big question is, why should they be allowed to write their own rules of access to public records, when we have this perfectly good state law that governs access to records for all other levels of state and local government?"

The commission's executive director claims it isn't subject to CORA because its office is now based in the Colorado Judicial Branch building. Judicial offices have not been covered under state statute since 2012, after a Colorado Appeals Court ruling.

The commission's proposal includes an option for making records available in print or digital formats, which conflicts with CORA requirements that agencies provide native digital files that are easier to sort and search.

Roberts points out the independent commission isn't included in records rules adopted for judicial offices by the state Supreme Court in 2015.

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert's has said the proposed rules could put the commission on "shaky legal ground." Roberts says Coloradans have a right to know how decisions are made on allegations of misconduct by public officials.

"The reason we have the open records laws is to give the public insight into how government agencies operate,” he says. “And anything that restricts that access, I think should be called into question."

The Ethics Commission was included in the state Constitution after voters approved Amendment 41 in 2006. The commission is scheduled to hear public comments on its proposal at a meeting on Feb. 12.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO