Municipal and county governments and the college have good records in responding to The Durango Herald’s annual request to show that they are operating transparently and are familiar with state law. This year was no different.
Asked to provide emails from two days late in February, nine government executive directors did just that in a timely fashion. Email topics all were work-related, about construction projects in Ignacio by the town manager, weather-related challenges from several, scheduling and reporting, and immunization and public-health surveys by San Juan Basin Health Department’s chief executive officer.
In a couple of cases, emails pertaining to individual personnel were withheld, as is permitted.
Those in charge of Fort Lewis College, the Durango-La Plata County airport, Ignacio, Bayfield, San Juan Basin Health, School District 9-R, the Durango Fire Protection District, the city of Durango and La Plata County were targeted for the media’s annual Sunshine Week exercise.
Five organizations provided the emails for the two days at no charge, which is in the spirit of transparency. Two – Fort Lewis College and Ignacio – figured their costs at about $65. Durango set a charge of about $150 and the airport about $100.
The Colorado Open Records Act requires that requests for information normally be met within three days, allows some topics such as attorney-client issues and proprietary information to be refused, and it permits charging for staff time and for copies at reasonable rates. Both Durango’s and the airport’s announced charges were within those amounts, but for a member of the public they could be considered expensive.
Last year, executive employment contracts and compensation amounts were requested.
Sometimes requests for information for this exercise are made anonymously, as if someone not with the media was making the request. That is because the Open Records statute is for every member of the public, not just the media.
That is important to remember.
La Plata County residents are used to a high degree of transparency in the operations of local taxpayer-funded governments and institutions. There also is a strong history of CEOs being visible and accessible and being responsive to questions and complaints. That is very much as it should be.
But it never hurts to remind the public about the access they are entitled to and can receive and to remind government and special-district heads their responsibilities under state law to respond.
Sometimes refusal to respond can be the result of not knowing the law.
Government transparency is a core component of a democracy, and it must be consciously practiced by all government organizations that are publicly funded and set the rules, regulations and charges that are so much a part of our daily lives.
The nine local entities involved this year responded well.