Key Colorado records available online
DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado residents can get a wide range of public records online at no charge, ranging from school test results to hospital inspection reports. But some key information is harder to find.
There’s no single online source for school bus safety inspection reports, for example. And although death certificates are available online, it costs $9 more than getting them by mail or in person.
A list of Colorado bridges rated “poor” is available free online, but not complete bridge inspection records.
A survey of 20 types of public records in Colorado found that 15 are available for free on the Internet.
“Colorado seems to be doing relatively well,” said Kris Kodrich, an associate professor of journalism at Colorado State University and state freedom of information chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the sponsors of a state-by-state Sunshine Week 2009 survey.
Sunday marks the start of the fifth annual Sunshine Week, a national initiative in which journalism organizations promote open government and freedom of information.
Colorado ranked sixth-best nationally in the survey, tied with three other states. Only in Texas were all 20 types of public records available online for free.
In the categories where Colorado fell short, the reasons varied.
School bus inspections are the responsibility of individual districts, so the Colorado Department of Education doesn’t have comprehensive records to put online.
The state’s largest school district, Jefferson County Public Schools, doesn’t post its bus inspections online either. But paper records are available to the public, said Marc Horner, who manages the district’s 358-bus fleet.
The $9 extra fee for death certificates is for expedited service through a private company called VitalChek Network Inc., said Ron Hyman, the state registrar of vital statistics.
That’s on top of the state’s $17 fee for certificates ordered by mail or in person. Hyman said his agency has to charge for certificates because it gets no tax revenue and is supported only by fees.
A list of “poor” bridges is available on the Colorado Department of Transportation Web site, although it’s not easy to find. The link is on the Office of Government Relations page, which is reached through a “Permits/Documents” menu on the home page.
CDOT spokeswoman Stacy Stegman said detailed reports on individual bridges are available to the public by request. They’re not posted online because they’re highly technical, she said.
Stegman said the department usually waives its 25-cents-a-page fee for small-scale requests. If inspection reports are sought for lawsuits or other legal action, CDOT asks for a formal request under the state open records law, she said.
The other public documents in the survey that weren’t available online for free were comprehensive listings of fictitious business names, records of school building inspections and records of overcharging by gas pumps.
Individual fictitious business names ” known as trade names in Colorado ” can be located by searching the business database on the secretary of state’s Web site. Secretary of state spokesman Rich Coolidge said the question of compiling a comprehensive list had never been raised, to his knowledge.
Information on inaccurate gas station pumps isn’t online because the database used by the inspectors is designed primarily for reporting the pumps’ pollution-control performance, said Mahesh Albuquerque, director of the Division of Oil and Public Safety, part of the state Department of Labor and Employment.
State officials didn’t return calls about records of school building inspections.
Kodrich said people who want public documents that aren’t online can usually find out how to get them by calling the agency involved.
“Most departments realize this is public information, and it’s really just a matter of how easy they want to make this for the public,” he said.
The Colorado portion of the survey was conducted by 12 senior journalism students at CSU and Kodrich.
– Sunshine Week: http://www.sunshineweek.org
– Society of Professional Journalists: http://www.spj.org
– Colorado State University Department of Journalism: http://www.colostate.edu/dept/TJ/