Thursday, February 9, 2012

City's war on open government continues

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 1:06 PM

Steve Bach
  • Steve Bach
It's not very often that the Gazette's Daniel Chacon and I see each other as allies.

Daniel covers the city for his paper; I cover the same subject for the Indy. We're competitors, and normally, we act like it. But lately, we've been on the same page.

To put it bluntly, we're both pissed that Colorado Springs' leaders are trying every trick in the book to bully journalists. The city ought to know that when it assaults the journalistic process, it doesn't just offend the reporter in question. It offends everyone in media. And it should offend citizens, since they depend on journalists to keep their elected officials honest.

I wrote this week about the city's various ploys to try to prevent local journalists from doing their jobs. You can read that story here. At the time I wrote the story, on Tuesday, I had waited 16 days for an open-records request, which by law is required to take only three to seven days.

The city finally released those records to me on Wednesday evening, conveniently after my deadline. Then, this morning, city staff sent out the response to my request to every media outlet in town.

The practice of sending out open-records requests to all news organizations is a new one, though it's already happened to Daniel several times. I talked to an expert who told me what I already felt to be true — that releasing those requests to competitors is meant to penalize reporters for asking questions. The city wants to make sure there are no rewards — like good, exclusive stories — for media outlets that demand to know what's going on in government.

My expert source, Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins, remarked, "They must know that information is the currency of journalism.”

Of course they do. The city's communications director, Cindy Aubrey, worked at local TV station KOAA for 17 years, and was news director.

The city, though, claims that it's releasing the results of these open records request because they're "of general public interest." Tompkins calls that B.S.

“If they think it's that important that it ought to be in front of journalists," he says, "they ought not to have been prompted by an open-records request.”

In other words, I was not hired by the city to tell it what to post on its website. Neither was Daniel Chacon.

But there's a broader question to be asked here, other than how this hurts our ability to deliver the news. Why is the city waging war on journalists? What don't they want us — and by extension, you — to know?

I worked the city beat before Mayor Steve Bach came along. And I can tell you, whatever the merits of this strong mayor government, transparency isn't among them.

P.S. Since it's out there anyway, I might as well share my open-records request with you. I requested all e-mails between City Council members, the mayor, Economic Vitality and Innovation chief Steve Cox, any member of the city finance department, any member of the city attorney's office, and the city auditor in regard to the city budget. You can read those highly redacted e-mails below:

Budget_Emails-2redacted.pdf

Budget_Emails-redacted.pdf

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