Coloradans Improve Access To Information

By: Jennifer Hamilton, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Colorado’s local governments apparently are complying with a new law requiring them to make a record of closed-door meetings, a survey has found.

Several media organizations, led by The Associated Press and the Colorado Press Association, canvassed selected county and municipal bodies and school boards in October for compliance with the new law.

The law, signed by Gov. Bill Owens in June, mandates the recording and storage of the minutes of secret “executive sessions” for 90 days. It also requires governments to detail the reasons for entering executive session and to cite the law that gives them authority to do so.

Anyone who suspects a governing body has strayed from the stated topic can ask a judge to review the tapes or written record. The court can order all or portions of that record opened to the public.

For La Plata County commissioners in Durango, adjusting to the new law was “a matter of just hitting the record button,” said county Manager Michael Scannell. The county already tape-records each regular meeting.

In nearby Bayfield, the directors of School District 10-JT are paying more attention to details and giving the public a little more information.

“We have to be a little more specific in exactly what we call executive sessions for,” said Superintendent Don Magill. “We always used to say why we are going into executive session. But now we have to say specifically under what state statute number.”

After the law was signed, associations for Colorado’s cities, counties, and school boards went to work to educate their members.

Lauren Kingsbery, attorney for the Colorado Association of School Boards, conducted training seminars with secretaries, distributed articles about the changes and published sample school board policies with the updated executive session law.

“We did what we could to inform them of the new requirements,” Kingsbery said. “We’re telling people, ‘As long as you stay on topic, you shouldn’t have a problem.'”

Colorado’s daily and weekly newspapers followed up on a similar project last November, in which they found that about one-third of local governments failed to comply with the state’s open public meetings laws.

Colorado Press Association lobbyists said the 2000 project gave them evidence to persuade legislators early this year to pass the “executive sessions law.”

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