Colorado Ethics Panel Caught with Unethical Records Policy

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A Colorado ethics commission charges five times what is allowed by law for copies of records obtained under the state open records act.

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission was recently in the spotlight for letting Gov. John Hickenlooper off the hook on a complaint filed by a conservative group.

The IEC charges $1.25 per paper copy, according to its own written policy available on its website. If the staff must supervise the copying, the policy continues, the price per page doubles.

But a 2007 law caps the fee state agencies can charge at $.25 per page.

The ethics commission is tasked with ensuring that state officials follow state law.

Todd Shepherd, a reporter for the website Complete Colorado who is extremely knowledgeable about open records laws, discovered the discrepancy and called it to the attention of the ethics agency. He got a typically vague bureaucratic response.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” an IEC spokeswoman told Shepherd in a voicemail message. “I think it is clear that a charge for production is permissible by law, but we will clarify what the law is, and that the law does anticipate an additional charge for production.”

Meanwhile, the state legislature passed a bill this week capping what state agencies can charge to research an open records act request. The current law is silent about such charges, but the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFIC) said the rate varies from $20 per hour at some agencies to $50 per hour in the city of Aurora.

The bill, which is headed to Hickenlooper’s desk for his signature, sets the maximum hourly rate at $30 and requires the first hour of research be free.

“It certainly addresses one of the main problems we pointed out last year,” Luis Toro, the director of Colorado Ethics Watch, is quoted as saying in an article on the CFIC website. “How much it costs to access public information shouldn’t depend on whom you ask or what county you live in.”

Or that the agency is charging more than the law allows for photocopies. Shepherd doesn’t sound hopeful that the IEC will rush to change its policy.

Commenting on the message he received in a blog post Wednesday, he wrote, “To me this sounds an awful lot like, ‘Don’t expect to get any cheap CORA requests through our office any time soon, bub.’”

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