Can city documents be withheld because they are proprietary?

The Colorado Springs Gazette has opined (scroll down to second item) that Colorado’s open records law:

Colorado’s Open Records Act…slows and greatly overcomplicates the release of public information by creating an elaborate, multi-step process to access documents that, in most cases, should be released on demand.

This conclusion may not surprise Amy Gahran, who has started a citizen journalism project to track how the city of Boulder spends the funds it is now receiving courtesy of the new Boulder carbon tax.

She is looking for more detail on the city’s emission’s inventory.

The city of Boulder may resist providing the emission inventory on the grounds that it is proprietary. Amy wonders how something the taxpayers paid for can be considered proprietary.

I hope that Amy’s efforts to obtain that information are met with great success and that she doesn’t one day sigh in frustrated recognition as she reads about Gregg Smith’s efforts, chronicled at the Electric City weblog, to obtain information from the city of Great Falls, Montana pertaining to the city’s investment in a coal-generating plant.

We’re adding the Boulder Carbon Tax Tracker to our blogroll of citizen journalists who use the open records process.

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3 responses to “Can city documents be withheld because they are proprietary?

  1. Hi, Leslie

    Thanks for noting my project. Today Boulder’s environmental affairs director Sarah Van Pelt told me that the emissions data is not proprietary, but the emissions inventory maintenance system is proprietary. She noted that she’s willing to consult the database to get my team whatever answers they want.

    That’s a start, and I’ll certainly see what kinds of answer I get from that process. However I’m probably still going to push further on getting the database. In my experience, once I see how a database is structured I tend to get better ideas about what questions it can answer and what stories it might yield.

    This is why reporters often try to obtain databases directly, rather than rely on go-betweens.

    – Amy Gahran

  2. You’re welcome, and please accept my best wishes on your project.

    There was a little dust-up in Wisconsin recently about a small tax on rental cars that was supposed to go into a fund to study and eventually build a light rail system. The tax raised $500,000 in its first year, and $497,000 of that (literally) went to pay a lobbying firm.

    Keeping an eye on things as you are doing with the carbon tax tracker will help people in Boulder feel comfortable that the project is doing what its supporters hoped for.

  3. Pingback: Boulder Carbon Tax Tracker - » links for 2007-07-26

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