A new report from Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien found that the city’s open records process is not as accessible or transparent as other Colorado municipalities.
“The city does not track overall records requests or how requests impact its operations,” the auditor’s letter reads. “Nor is the city consistent in how it fulfills records requests. These deficiencies hinder the public’s ability to confidently submit open records requests, and they hinder the city’s ability to comply with state law.”
The audit found that Denver’s open records request process does not provide much information on its website to guide the public with record requests. The city also doesn’t keep track of how many open records requests it receives citywide, how much time is spent on them, or how much it charges in fees for those requests.
The audit found that Denver officials also are “inconsistent and sometimes late” responding to open records requests. Fees and fee waivers aren’t consistent across the agencies reviewed by the auditor’s office, and notifying requesters when their inquiries take longer than expected varies among agencies as well.
The city also is not always fully addressing open records requests, the audit found, nor retaining sufficient supporting documentation of record requests submitted.
Under the Colorado Open Records Act, enacted in 1968, government records must be provided in a “reasonable time,” which the law specifies is a maximum of three working days, in most circumstances.
The audit report lists several recommendations to improve the city’s open records process, most of which the mayor’s office agreed to implement by Sept. 29.
Some of the auditor’s recommendations include increasing the amount of information online, creating an open records directory with a list of records custodians and their contact information, implementing an online request form, enhancing request submission guidance, and standardizing policy for records requests that take longer than 10 days.
The mayor’s office disagreed with five of the auditor’s recommendations; a stance O’Brien was “disappointed” with because he said his recommendations “would clearly improve the open records request process for the public.”
The mayor’s office will not be implementing the following recommendations: conducting a cost-benefit analysis for creating a standardized intake process; requiring agencies to report high-level data points to the mayor’s office; compiling citywide data and making that information public annually; and updating the policies and procedures for both the Clerk and Recorder’s Office and Denver City Council to match the city’s current hourly rate for open records request fees.
“Through stronger policies, guidance to agencies, and transparency, the city will be better equipped to make the open records process more efficient, effective and transparent,” O’Brien wrote. “Further, the city will be able to strengthen open records law compliance.”