DENVER — According to news articles and editorials published to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC) website, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission is considering pre-empting the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) to make its own rules governing the investigation of ethics violations.
The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission investigates public officials accused of ethical misconduct. Unlike other states, Colorado requires citizens to document the alleged misconduct themselves and then submit it to the commission for scrutiny. Other states entrust the investigation to an arm of their ethics commission.
Citizens must also pay their own way through the court system to prove public wrongdoing while public officials accused of malfeasance can rely on public money for their defense, The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, DC reports on its website.
Colorado Politics reported late last month that the commission wishes to interpret the law on delivering electronic CORA requests differently than it is written and exempt themselves from answering requests if an IEC employee or commissioner’s safety or security might be threatened.
CFOIC President Jeff Roberts also reports that the IEC feels it should be exempted from the law merely because it shares building space with judicial offices. The Judicial Department is not subject to CORA laws.
The Greeley Tribune, Durango Herald and Pueblo Chieftain all have written editorials criticizing the IEC for a lack of transparency in proposing the changes.
One editorial quoted a Colorado Broadcasters Association official as decrying the move because the IEC is specifically set up to create greater transparency and inspire public trust by investigating government officials. It therefore should not be expecting a “pass” on the very laws governing openness and transparency, he concluded.
Colorado Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said the IEC is on “shaky ground” and should not expect exemption from the law. The IEC meets Feb. 12 to further discuss the proposed access rules.
The State of Colorado has consistently received low marks for its transparency over the years.
The state earned a “D+” in a 2015 ranking of all 50 states on transparency issues, conducted periodically by The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, DC. More than 300 different categories of government transparency, accountability, and enforcement are measured in the survey. The report calls access to information in Colorado, “a huge gaping hole.”
To view Colorado’s ranking, visit https://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/11/09/18822/how-does-your-state-rank-integrity