720-913-5000 auditor@denvergov.org

Audit Report

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Open Records Request Process

The audit had three objectives:

  1. To determine the degree to which city policies and procedures ensure consistency and compliance with requirements in addressing open records requests;
  2. To determine the extent to which the city tracks open records requests and resolutions; and
  3. To determine the degree to which the city makes the open records process accessible and transparent.

Enacted in 1968, the Colorado Open Records Act is meant to increase citizens’ access to public records. The law requires most government records be available for inspection by anyone in a “reasonable” amount of time unless prohibited by law or contrary to public interest.

Under normal circumstances, the law specifies that a “reasonable time” is a maximum of three working days. Under certain extenuating circumstances, which are narrowly framed by the law, the records custodian can claim an additional seven-day extension. The state law

also allows agencies to charge a fee for research and retrieval.

The City’s Open Records Request Process Does Not Provide Sufficient Guidance and Transparency to the Public

The city does not provide as much information or guidance on its website as other Colorado cities and counties do about how the public can request records.

The City Does Not Know the Amount of Effort It Is Spending on Open Records Requests

The city does not know how many open records requests it receives citywide, how much time is spent on them, or how much it charges in fees for those requests.

The City Is Inconsistent and Sometimes Late in Responding to Open Records Requests

  • Fees and fee waivers are not consistent across reviewed agencies.

  • The city is not consistently notifying requesters when their records requests take longer than the time allowed by law.

  • The city is not always fully addressing open records requests.

  • Agencies are not retaining sufficient supporting documentation of records requests.

1.1 Increase Information Online – The Mayor’s Office should increase the amount of information on the city’s website about the open records request process. This should include, at a minimum, city rules and guidelines and frequently asked questions or similar guidance for making a successful records request.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

1.2 Create Open Records Directory – The Mayor’s Office should create a more robust directory on the city’s open records webpage. This directory should include at a minimum, a list of records custodians and their contact information as well as types of commonly requested documents each agency is the custodian of. This information should be updated at least quarterly or more often.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020


1.3 Determine Feasibility of Standardized Intake Process – The Mayor’s Office should conduct a cost-benefit analysis for creating a standardized intake process for receiving open records requests in writing

and promptly forwarding them to the appropriate records custodian or agency as determined by the requester. The Mayor’s Office should formally document the analysis regardless of outcome.

Agency Response: Disagree
Auditor’s Addendum: See pages 23-24 under Recommendation 1.3

1.4 Implement Online Form – Depending on the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis conducted in Recommendation 1.3, the Mayor’s Office should create and use an online form that is automatically forwarded to the selected agency. The implementation of an online form could be facilitated by an existing or new workflow system that allows for automated forwarding. The Mayor’s Office should document a formal plan and timeline for implementation of the online form.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

2.1 Track High-Level Data – The Mayor’s Office should add guidance requiring agencies to track high-level records request data including the number of open records requests an agency receives, an estimate of how many hours staff spend on open records requests, and how much the agency charged in fees.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

2.2 Report Data to Mayor’s Office – The Mayor’s Office should require agencies to report the high-level data points mentioned in Recommendation 2.1 to the Mayor’s Office annually.

Agency Response: Disagree
Auditor’s Addendum: See pages 24-25 under Recommendation 2.2

2.3 Compile Citywide Data – The Mayor’s Office should compile agencies’ open records request data and report it yearly to the public via the city’s website or in the Mayor’s Budget.

Agency Response: Disagree
Auditor’s Addendum: See page 25 under Recommendation 2.3

3.1 Enhance Guidance – The Mayor’s Office should enhance guidance given to agencies to improve the consistency in how the city applies and treats open records request fees. Specifically, the Mayor’s Office should address the following inconsistencies:

  • Treatment of fees for duplicate requests;

  • The timing of when agencies begin work on a request after payment is received;

  • Fee waivers; and

  • Fee accounting practices.

Any changes to the guidance should be communicated to the agencies and updated in the open records training the City Attorney’s Office gives to agencies, as necessary.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

3.2 Update Policies and Procedures – The Mayor’s Office should recommend the Clerk and Recorder’s Office update its policies and procedures to match the city’s current hourly rate for open records request fees.

Agency Response: Disagree
Auditor’s Addendum: See pages 25-26 under Recommendation 3.2

3.3 Update Policies and Procedures – The Mayor’s Office should recommend the Denver City Council update its policies and procedures to match the city’s current hourly rate for open records request fees.

Agency Response: Disagree
Auditor’s Addendum: See page 26 under Recommendation 3.3

3.4 Enhance Guidance on Extenuating Circumstances – The Mayor’s Office, in consultation with the

City Attorney’s Office, should provide enhanced guidance and training to agencies on extenuating circumstances. These enhancements should emphasize that agencies must notify requesters in writing if they cannot meet the initial three-day deadline and a seven-day extension is needed to fulfill a request because of extenuating circumstances.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

3.5 Standardize Policy for Requests Taking Longer Than 10 Days – The Mayor’s Office, in consultation with the City Attorney’s Office, should include in the citywide guidance and training to agencies a policy for communicating in writing with requesters if they will be unable to fulfill a request within the maximum time allowed (10 business days) and request to set a future date to provide the records.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

3.6 Add Language on Unavailable Documentation – The Mayor’s Office should give additional guidance to city agencies to add language in responses to open records requests to explain why not all requested documents could be provided if the agency cannot completely fulfill all aspects of a request.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

3.7 Enhance Guidance on Supporting Documentation Retention – The Mayor’s Office, in consultation with the City Attorney’s Office, should give specific guidance and training to city agencies on what types of open records documentation to retain — such as the request itself and supporting documentation relating to the response or denial of the request — in accordance with the city’s records retention schedule.

Agency Response: Agree, Implementation Date – Sept. 29, 2020

The objective of our audit of the city’s open records process was to determine the degree to which the policies and procedures of selected mayoral and independent agencies ensured consistency and compliance with the Colorado Open Records Act and how these agencies track open records requests. We also sought to determine the degree to which the city makes the records request process accessible and transparent. I am pleased to present the results of this audit.

Our audit revealed the city’s records request process is not as accessible or transparent as other Colorado governments. The city does not track overall records requests or how requests impact its operations. Nor is the city consistent in how it fulfills records requests. These deficiencies hinder the public’s ability to confidently submit open records requests, and they hinder the city’s ability to comply with state law.

Through stronger policies, guidance to agencies, and transparency, the city will be better equipped to make the open records process more efficient, effective, and transparent. Further, the city will be able to strengthen open records law compliance. Our report lists several related recommendations.

I am disappointed the Mayor’s Office has chosen to disagree with recommendations that would clearly improve the open records request process for the public. Further explanation is in the Auditor’s Addenda included in the Recommendations section of the report on pages 23-27.

This performance audit is authorized pursuant to the City and County of Denver Charter, Article V, Part 2, Section 1, “General Powers and Duties of Auditor,” and was conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

We extend our appreciation to personnel in the departments of Parks and Recreation, Transportation & Infrastructure, and Community Planning and Development; the Mayor’s Office; the City Attorney’s Office; the Clerk and Recorder’s Office; Denver Economic Development & Opportunity; the City Council; and the Denver Public Library — who assisted and cooperated with us during the audit. For any questions, please feel free to contact me at 720-913-5000.

Follow-up report

A follow-up report is forthcoming. 

Audit Team: Dawn Wiseman, Cody Schulte, Anna Hansen, Brandon Stolba, Taylor Younger, John-Michael Steiner