From Darkness To Light

29 Mar 2024

City of Durango loses lawsuit appeal in gamble to hide public financial records

Posted by Adam Howell


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The City of Durango lost its appeal of a district court ruling that found the city illegally hid financial records from a local advocate of open records and transparent government.

Plaintiff John Simpson filed the original suit against the city over an alleged CORA violation in 2021. Simpson had sought the draft 2021 Comprehensive Report. As an excuse, the city had claimed that the draft version was work product was exempt from disclosure.

In the end, the appellate court ruled that the draft report was a public record that must be disclosed and the city must pay for the Simpson’s attorney’s fees.

City of Durango

John Simpson filed another suit against the city of Durango over an alleged CORA violation.

“The appeals court ruled against the city in my lawsuit,” said Simpson. “The court agreed with the district court that financial reports cannot be hidden. Also, attorney fees must be paid. I am not excited about the attorney fees – it was a huge waste of time and money by the city to send this case to the appellate court.”

Here’s what the summary of the appellate court ruling about work product for elected officials said:

“A division of the court of appeals holds that, under the circumstances of this case and the limited record before the court, a draft financial report is not exempt from the disclosure requirements of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), §§ 24-72-200.1 to -205.5, C.R.S. 2023. Specifically, the division holds that the draft report is not “[w]ork product prepared for elected officials” under section 24-72-202(6)(b)(II), C.R.S. 2023, because, based on the record provided, elected officials do not have any control over the content of the final report and are not meaningfully involved in any decision involving the final report’s fate or any decision based on its content.”

In the District Court’s order that the city appealed, the court concluded:

“In its order, the district court concluded that the draft financial report Simpson requested did not fit the definition of “work product.” As we read the district court’s order, it determined that the draft report, to the extent it was “the product of deliberation” or “contain[ed] advice or opinions,” was not “communicated for the purpose of assisting . . . elected officials in reaching a decision within the scope of their authority” pursuant to section 24-72-202(6.5)(a).”

John Simpson also sued the City for refusing to provide public records regarding the creation of governance documents for the Financial Advisory Board, a public city advisory board.

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

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