Monday, December 21, 2015

Journalist turned advocate is leading Colorado's fight for government transparency

Jeff Roberts
The battle for open government and unrestricted access to public records in Colorado is being led by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, "a nonprofit alliance of news organizations, good-government groups, and others with an interest in transparency," Corey Hutchins reports for Columbia Journalism Review. "CFOIC helps journalists and citizens fight for open access to government records and meetings, tracks legislation and court rulings, and hosts panel discussions."

At the forefront is CFIOC director Jeff Roberts, a former Denver Post reporter who "pens a frequently updated blog about transparency news statewide, fields calls to a hotline, and publishes online guides," Hutchins writes. Roberts also occasionally publishes his own reporting into open records requests. Roberts told Hutchins, “I still see myself as a journalist. I have other roles as well. When I was a writer and an editor at The Denver Post I did not see myself as any kind of advocate. But in this role I have to be an advocate.”

Hutchins writes, "In a state where access to records leaves much to be desired, Roberts has emerged as the go-to guy for journalists and citizens who need help prying information from reluctant government entities." That's especially important to small and rural newspapers, said Bart Smith, publisher of The Greeley Tribune and a member of the CFOIC board. Smith told Hutchins, “He’s a great help to a lot of papers that otherwise would wait in line to try to get to an attorney to get free advice or couldn’t afford when the meter starts running.”

While Colorado "has a reputation for clean government, it doesn’t have a strong record of transparency," Hutchins writes. "In both 2012 and 2015, the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation gave Colorado an F for public access to information. For example, state laws give police discretion over whether to release many types of records, which has been the source of much journalistic ire."

"Initially launched in 1987 as an all-volunteer effort, the CFOIC re-branded and muscled up in 2013, with support from the Missouri-based National Freedom of Information Coalition," Hutchins writes. "At the time, Roberts had been working on a project on the state budget at Denver University. Funding for the project had run out, and he saw the CFOIC was looking to hire its first paid director." Roberts told Hutchins, “It made sense. It was an issue that I cared a lot about. It was a chance to get back into journalism.”

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