Transparency

A major battle plays out daily in Colorado as some of our elected and appointed officials — all of whom took a solemn oath to serve all Coloradans — do everything possible to frustrate disclosing information belonging to the public.  These fights involve access to records concerning public policies created with taxpayer dollars.

As someone who has fought on multiple fronts for public access to records and deliberations, I continue to be astonished by how many government employees continue to make it difficult for journalists to do their jobs or for regular citizens to simply find out what is happening in their own communities.

While many officials tout their belief in “transparency,” their actions often belie their words.  They hide and obfuscate — making decisions privately rather than publicly and making records difficult to obtain by delaying access, charging ludicrous amounts for copies, overly redacting information, and, in many cases, not providing the information at all.  

They truly believe whatever they do is “right,” because they are convinced they know best what is in the public’s interest.  They rationalize bad behavior due to their belief the ends (what they believe is a good outcome) justify the means (making it difficult for journalists and others to access what should be public information). 

No one can deny that the loss of credibility which occurred to the Board of Regents due to how it conducted its presidential search and that they tried to hide it from the public.

For the full account, read HarberTV.com/Transparency

The result of the Board’s lack of transparency was a statewide black eye.  Given the negative reaction by faculty, students, staff, alumni, and hundreds of thousands of Colorado citizens, the Board should be able to now see it could have avoided the public relations disaster simply by following the law.  Everyone would have come out ahead had the Board been transparent.

The Board can begin immediately to change its course from one of avoiding transparency to one of setting a high standard for it and being the State’s leader in ensuring Coloradans are fully informed.  Here are some immediate actions the Board can take.

– As a courtesy, advise the candidates whose names and applications are to be released that this is forthcoming and apologize to them for any promises made that the information always would remain confidential.

 – Publicly release the information required under CORA, as ordered by the Court.

– Institute changes in the recruiting process so all future candidates will be advised, in advance, that, if they become finalists (which could include a large number of people), their applications would be publicly disclosed accordingly (i.e., certain personal information still can be withheld from the Public under CORA, such as medical conditions)

– Institute a plan to better and more proactively inform the Public when and where the Board meets, and include more detailed agendas.

– Make a greater effort to minimize Executive Sessions which shut out the public.

– To the greatest degree possible, disclose what occurred in each Executive Session when one truly needs to be held

 – Institute a policy that all future Board meetings would be live-streamed so any member of the public could watch or listen for free.  Given today’s technological offerings, meetings can be broadcast via a number of platforms — all at little or no cost to the University. 

– Archive meeting recordings so they are available to the Public 24/7.

– Institute a policy that all future Board meetings will be held at locations which are convenient for members of the University community and the Public (for example, a recent annual retreat was held at a location which was inconvenient for almost everyone in the entire State).

– Proactively post decisions of the Board and seek input on them via a confidential “Regents’ Suggestion Box” which would channel specific requests to the appropriate administrative staff member.  This would give Regents a window on peoples’ concerns while not interfering with established communication paths.

– Make a greater effort to go out in the community — with a periodic 64-County statewide “Listening Tour” tour — to hear what Colorado citizens have to say on any topic about which they desire to opine.

The good news is Board of Regents and CU have an opportunity to become leaders in transparency.  Let’s hope they start today by declining to appeal the decision by Judge Jones.

The CU Board of Regents faces a special challenge of which most Colorado citizens are unaware — i.e., unlike any other institution, it is a sovereign entity in Colorado based on how it was created by the Colorado Constitution.  Similar to Native American tribes identified as sovereign nations by Federal law, Colorado law gives CU the ability to autonomously make decisions, often without regard to the positions or rules of other entities.

Sovereignty represents a grant of extraordinary independence and power.  Unbeknownst to most Coloradans, CU actually can make its own laws (called “Regent Law”).  But having this authority can be corrupting and the Regents need to make certain they don’t become arrogant or abuse their singular authority.

What happened in 2019 illustrates how transparency promotes good government and helps our leaders avoid bad decisions.  The incomplete and untimely vetting which occurred was due to the Regents’ avoidance of their disclosure responsibilities.  It rebounded to hurt them and the University.

A more transparent process ultimately may have resulted in the same hiring decision but, at the minimum, that decision would have been made with everyone being fully informed in a timely manner.  That would have helped create the invaluable “buy in” every academic institution needs.

Hopefully, the Regents have learned from this experience and will make a formal commitment to greater transparency in the future.

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