Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wanna dig through records? Know the rules, Springs Utilities says

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 4:00 PM

If you want to dig into Colorado Springs Utilities' records, you should know the rules.

The city-owned agency recently posted procedures in how to use the open records law to access Utilities' records on its website, to better accommodate customers, says Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Quintero.

"We have not had it posted in the past. We looked at what other utilities in the industry were doing, and we thought it was a way to help customers to use it and, of course, to be as transparent as possible," she says.

One thing that's missing is how much Utilities charges to "search" for records. It's legal for an agency to charge actual cost of doing so. In one case involving my request some months ago for invoices predating December 2007, I was quoted a cost of $500 to retrieve them from archives.

But Quintero says such charges aren't designed to discourage access. "We're only going to charge people for work that's being done," she says.

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Anyway, some of the other rules include a 25-cents-per-page copy charge, which is allowed by law, and a ban against you bringing your own photocopier, camera or other method to make copies.

I'm no lawyer, but I've used the open records law many times and don't recall it containing a prohibition on making copies with your own devices, as long as you don't mutilate the records, of course.

Here's the provision that Quintero says applies, Colorado Revised Statutes 24-72-203 (1) (a):

All public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times, except as provided in this part 2 or as otherwise provided by law, but the official custodian of any public records may make such rules with reference to the inspection of such records as are reasonably necessary for the protection of such records and the prevention of unnecessary interference with the regular discharge of the duties of the custodian or the custodian's office.

Quintero says the ban on copying things yourself with a photocopier or camera "is something we've always done, because photos can be manipulated."

Following that logic, I asked her if the city has to approve photos taken by the media of Utilities projects, such as the Southern Delivery System or the Academy solar array, or any number of photo ops served up by the PR department there.

She exploded.

"Do you want to hurry up and write your negative story?" she said. "People aren't going on fishing expeditions like you do. You know how the news media works. It's within our rights under CORA to set that process. Make sure when you talk about that, you tell about your fishing expeditions, so that they know the waste of ratepayer dollars when we have to deal with you. Let's get on with it and get on with the next negative story. Don't call and waste our time asking for the facts and then don't use them."

Talk about your customer service.

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