Sen. John Kefalas honored for dedication by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition

 

State. Sen. John Kefalas was heralded as a champion of free speech and transparent government by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Friday.

The Democratic lawmaker from Fort Collins was presented the Sue O’Brien Award for Outstanding Public Service. The award isn’t given out annually, but only when a person’s sustained efforts rise to the level worthy of the award named for the late editorial page editor of the Denver Post.

“I can think of no public official in any branch of Colorado government more deserving of the Sue O’Brien Award for Outstanding Public Service than Sen. John Kefalas,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told the luncheon via video. “John’s commitment to keeping government open and accountable is, in my opinion, unmatched. He is a true champion of freedom of information.

“Congratulations, Sen. Kefalas. The people of this great state thank you and salute you for your service.”

Kefalas was joined Friday by Ruth Anna, who received the first Citizen Champion Award that will permanently bear her name.

Kefalas was elected to the Colorado House in 2006 and to the state Senate in 2012. He is running for Larimer County Commission this year.

Last year he sponsored and pushed through Senate Bill 40, to ensure public records maintained in a digital format are  made available to the public in digital form, where they’ll be cheaper to produce and easier to search. Kefalas also was the champion of legislation that capped fees charged by government bodies for complying with Colorado Open Records Act requests. Sometimes those with something to hide unreasonably jack up the cost beyond what a curious citizen can afford.

“Perhaps more than anyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with in 23 years, Sen. Kefalas has been tremendously successful and not only persistent in those efforts,” said Steve Zansberg, the president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

Zansberg recalled legislation Kefalas passed that made it possible for people to request and inspect public records by fax or email.

“While Sen. Kefalas shares with us, the CFOIC and our community, the fundamental philosophy about the Open Records Act and what it means, there are those we’ve worked with and, unfortunately, sometimes against who have a very different view of what a public records act means,” Zansberg told the luncheon. “These individuals, their philosophy is that government records are the government’s records, and the Public Records Act only provides access to a certain subset that are defined in the statute as ‘public records.’

“We believe the proper view is that there ought to be an apostrophe and an s in the statute. It should be the ‘Public’s Records Act.’ They are our records — records made, maintained and kept for the use and the exercise of official functions, whether they involved the expenditure of public funds or not. They are our records. They are made, maintained and kept at taxpayer expense, and we have just as much right to those records. This, after all, is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

“Because Sen. Kefalas believes deeply — really, in his DNA — that that is the case, he has fought so painstakingly to advance that philosophical view.”

Kefalas named those in the audience who worked with him to pass Senate Bill 40 last year.

“In the end, these public records belong to the people, and we are the stewards of those records and with logical exceptions we need to make that information available, so that we can be held accountable, so that we can have the most open and transparent government,” Kefalas said.

“And ultimately this is good for our representative form of democracy.”

Fred Brown, a journalism instructor at the University of Denver and a legendary Colorado journalist, presented Anna with the award bearing her name.

She is a 30-year board member and member of the media and public relations communities.

“Most of the time she was our token conservative,” Brown, a fellow board member, joked. “She constantly reminded us of the need to be diverse in our activities and our programs, and, if possible, in our thinking — diverse in race and gender and, yes, in political views.”

Anna said her passion for free speech and free thought started with her parents. She recalled her father, a school board, president insisting on a magazine called “Soviet Life” to be in the school library.

“Dad taught me that people have different opinions and what’s really bad is they believe in theirs as strongly as you believe in your opinions, and you’ve got to respect that,” she said. “.. With some of our elected officials you really do need to debate the issues and you need to debate them in public. And then maybe you need to come up with some compromise. I don’t know when compromise became a dirty word.”

 

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