Public records requests frequently cost local governments substantial staff time and money while failing to yield the information that the requesting citizens are seeking. This is often because the request fails to give to the custodian of the public records the information needed to identify what records are sought.
Citing an excess of 100 CORA requests processed in 2018 (see 2018 CORA log), which cost substantial staff time and expense, the City of Salida found that its CORA policy had been cumbersome and badly in need of updating. So the Salida City Council unanimously passed Resolution 2019-19 at its April 16, 2019 meeting (see packet, pp. 138-147) that adopted the City of Saida Rules Governing Access to Public Records under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). The new rules were based on a model CORA policy developed by a group of CORA experts under the aegis of the Colorado Municipal League (CML).
The new policy changed neither the procedures for citizens requesting records nor those who were entitled to make requests. Rather, the new rules sought to make requests more productive and efficient for citizens filing them and less time consuming and costly for the City.
The new rules mainly require that requests “be made with sufficient specificity to permit the efficient identification, collection, and evaluation of records. For example, to the extent available, specific requests should include information such as the record’s name or title, location(s), date(s), author(s), recipient(s), specific subject matter, or category of records.” (See Rules, A. 3.)
A common mistake made by those submitting requests has been to submit interrogatories, such as for “all documents relating to …” or requests requiring knowledge or review of the content of documents by the city clerk to determine which documents would be covered by the request.
A CORA request filed on May 16, 2019 and discussed in a Letter To the Editor of The Mountain Mail dated June 13, 2019 is an example of a problem the new Rules are designed to address. That request asked for “all correspondence from the Poncha Springs mayor to Salida elected officials or employees from 10/1/18 to 4/30/19.” The request identified no specific addressee, no specific date, and no particular subject matter. Such a request to the Town of Poncha Springs would have directed its clerk to the mayor’s correspondence, but to the City of Salida, the request gave its clerk no clue as to where to look. A search for all such letters for the seven month period in question would have required searching all of the files maintained by the City Clerk and the desks of all city officials and employees.
Then, The Mountain Mail filed a more specific request, following the newly adopted rules, for “Letter from Poncha Springs Mayor Ben Scanga to Salida Mayor PT Wood dated November 12, 2018.” (See 2019 CORA log.) This request produced the letter that the May 16th request had sought.