From Darkness To Light

28 Feb 2023

District Judge orders city to release financial statements to public under CORA

Posted by Adam Howell


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District Court Judge Suzanne Carlson ordered the City of Durango to make a draft financial statement from the year 2021 available for public inspection following the city’s denial of the record to a local resident.

District Court Judge Suzanne Carlson ordered draft financial statements available for public inspection.

John Simpson. Photo courtesy of John Simpson.

John Simpson sued City Clerk Faye Harmer in her official capacity after she repeatedly denied his requests for the record(s) that he made pursuant to the Colorado Open Records Act.

Defendant Harmer made the argument that the release of the draft audit materials would cause significant public harm, because it would diminish the effectiveness of the auditor’s tasks and reduce the quality of the discussions necessary to produce an adequate picture of city finances, according to Carlson’s order.

Translation of the city’s argument: releasing the document(s) could lead to unpleasant questions and criticism from the public.

Also, the city was claiming that the documents are work product that is not subject to disclosure.

To the contrary, District Judge Carlson ruled that the draft statements were not work product since they were not prepared for elected officials. Rather, the financial statements were prepared for the Finance Director and the auditor.

Specifically, the draft financial statements are explained by Carlson:

“The City created the draft financial statements to satisfy its legal obligation to produce an audited financial statement. § 29-1-602; § 29-1-603. Draft financial statements involve the receipt or expenditure of public funds. Therefore, the draft financial statements are a “public record” as defined in § 24-72- 202(6)(a)(I),” said District Court Judge Carlson.

Would release of the draft financial reports cause significant public harm and be contrary to the public interest, asked Carlson? Here’s how Judge Carlson answered it:

“Certainly, the Financial Director could be asked to respond to questions and criticism from the public based upon the release of a draft report that may be inaccurate. Potentially this could be unpleasant and cause Financial Department employees to exercise caution in their discussions. However, the chilling argument made by the City appears overblown. Additionally, release of drafts could be beneficial to the public, especially when, as here, it had been twenty months since the last financial audit was completed. The City has not established any facts that support finding an extraordinary situation exists or that there would be a substantial injury to the public interest if draft financial statements were released,” District Court Judge Carlson said.

Moreover, Judge Carlson ordered that court costs and reasonable attorney fees shall be awarded to the plaintiff.

Order re_ CORA Request for Draft Financial Statement

Adam Howell is a writer who believes in free press, CORA law and the importance of the constitution. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.


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