June 22, 2024

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Colorado court won’t hear Daily Camera open records lawsuit

BOULDER, Colo. — The Colorado Supreme Court will not hear a lawsuit from the Daily Camera newspaper of Boulder that challenges the University of Colorado’s refusal to reveal the finalists for the school president’s job in 2019.

The Camera reported that the court denied its petition Wednesday. It had asked the court to determine who is considered a finalist for chief executive jobs not only at the university but at other publicly funded government entities under the Colorado Open Records Act. The law requires a finalist’s identity be publicly disclosed.

The Camera sued in 2019, seeking the names of six finalists interviewed by the Board of Regents to replace then-university President Bruce Benson, who was retiring. Mark Kennedy, a former president of the University of North Dakota who got the job, was the only candidate publicly identified by the university.

A district court judge ruled for the Camera in 2020. That decision was overturned in March by a Court of Appeals panel that found governmental entities can determine who is a “finalist.”

A dissenting judge wrote that the opinion allows the university and other government entities to “manipulate their procedures to shield information from disclosure in spite of” the Open Records Act and Colorado’s Open Meetings Law. The open meetings law requires that meetings of two or more members of a state public body to discuss public business must be open to the public.

Al Manzi, publisher of the Camera and president of parent company Prairie Mountain Media, said the newspaper was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case.

“We hope our efforts to try to get the courts to order governing bodies to release the names of more than one finalist will eventually bear fruit,” he said.

The university was pleased with the outcome, spokesman Mike Sandler said. The school has said candidates for the president’s position should have an expectation of confidentiality and that releasing their names could jeopardize their current jobs.

The Legislature passed a bipartisan measure allowing certain governmental entities that are seeking a chief executive to disclose just a single finalist, as in the case of a city manager or school district superintendent. It became law this year without Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ signature.

Supporters of the bill said government agencies lose talented candidates when they know their names will be publicized. Opponents, including the Colorado Press Association, say the public has a right to know who is being considered for a taxpayer-financed government position.

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