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Public nature of private corporation subjects it to open records law

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         COLORADO         Freedom of Information         Nov 30, 2000    

Public nature of private corporation subjects it to open records law

  • A corporation charged with overseeing a massive development project must disclose to a newspaper columnist all of the bids it received.

The nonprofit corporation charged with developing the 4,700-acre site of Denver’s old airport must disclose the bids it did not accept, a Colorado appeals court panel ruled Nov. 24. The court rejected the Stapleton Development Corporation’s argument that it is a private entity, not a public one subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. The decision forces the corporation to make a more complete disclosure than it originally had.

The appeals court panel supported its decision to disclose the unaccepted bids by citing the scope of the project, its public nature and especially the project’s involvement in developing several thousand acres of publicly owned lands throughout several decades. The panel also said the public should know about the decision-making process despite the transfer of control of the development to a non-governmental entity.

Stapleton Airport became obsolete when the newer Denver International Airport opened and the city formed the corporation to create and oversee development of the site by private entrepreneurs. The court found that the Stapleton Development Corporation is effectively an “instrumentality of Denver,” a “political subdivision” controlled and substantially funded by the city.

The Denver Post sued the corporation in January 1999 in state District Court in Denver after it denied former business columnist Don Knox access to bid materials submitted by four firms competing to become major partners in the massive in-fill redevelopment. The newspaper argued the corporation is covered by the open records law because it “functions as an agency of the city and county of Denver,” but Stapleton’s counsel insisted throughout the litigation that it operates as a “private, nonprofit corporation.”

The district court in May 1999 ordered Stapleton to release all bid proposals as soon as it selected the winner. In February, when Stapleton awarded the bid to Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland, it released copies of all four bids — but with major redactions of information Stapleton said would reveal confidential commercial and financial data. The Post appealed partial disclosure to the state appeals court.

(The Denver Post v. Stapleton Development Corp.; Media Counsel: Thomas Kelley, Denver) RD

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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