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Auditor finds Denver's response to public records requests lacks accessibility

According to Denver's auditor, city's response to public records requests is inconsistent, inaccessible and occasionally unclear compared to other state governments.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

DENVER — An audit of the open records request process found Denver does not provide as much information or guidance on its website as other Colorado cities and counties, which may cause accessibility issues.

That's according to an announcement Thursday from Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien to determine the city's compliance with the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).

Denver Mayor Micheal Hancock agreed to some of the recommendations, outlined below.

CORA is meant to increase citizens’ access to public records. The law requires all government agencies in Colorado to provide access to public documents in a timely manner of three business days, or an additional seven business days in extenuating circumstances. The custodian of the records or the agency providing the records must notify the requester if additional time is needed. 

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O'Brien said other cities provide centralized online request forms, a public-facing policy, frequently asked questions or an agency directory specific to open records, which help to navigate the public records process. 

Fees and response clarity are inconsistent, according to the audit. Agencies in the city charge different hourly rates, do not grant fee waiver requests consistently and vary in how they manage duplicate requests, O'Brien said. The audit also found that city agencies do not adequately explain delays or missing information when fulfilling records requests.

“The city’s records are really the people of Denver’s records,”  O’Brien said. “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.”

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The audit included several recommendations to promote accessibility and consistency. 

Hancock has agreed to increase information online by Sept. 29. This will include adding city rules and guidelines, frequently asked questions and an Open Records Directory on Denver's website. The Open Records Directory will include a list of custodians and their contact information, as well as types of commonly requested documents each agency is the custodian of.

An online form will be created through which individuals can submit Colorado Open Records Requests to city agencies on individual city agencies pages.

The mayor's office has also agreed to provide more guidance to agencies in regard to timing and fees, as well as clarification of language to those requesting.

Of the recommendations made, Hancock disagreed to compile agencies’ open records request data and report it yearly to the public via the city’s website or in the mayor’s budget, nor did the mayor agree to update several policy recommendations made by Denver's Auditor Office.