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Denver Resident Wins Open Records Lawsuit For Internal Documents On Group Living Proposal

DENVER (CBS4) - A judge has ruled the city of Denver must turn over public records regarding its controversial proposal to amend the city's group living rules. This, after a private citizen filed suit against the city when it denied her open records request for the documents.

The proposed group living changes would allow five unrelated adults to live together, and would allow halfway houses in some Denver neighborhoods, among several other changes laid out in this 200-page document.

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Proponents of the proposal say it would create more equitable, affordable housing options in the city. Those against it say it would cause overcrowding and would make neighborhoods less safe.

The proposal was created with the help of the Group Living Advisory Committee. On that committee were some people who could stand to benefit from the changes, like a representative from the GEO Group, which runs community corrections facilities.

"It looks to me like the task force was comprised of those who will benefit directly from their own decisions, and that does not necessarily mean that it's going to benefit the community at large," said Florence Sebern, who filed the suit against the city.

The city has told CBS4 in the past that it was important to have those representatives on the committee, because they understand the industries that would be affected. But Sebern wanted to know more about why and how the committee representatives were chosen, so she issued an open records request for documents that would explain more about the formulation of the Group Living Advisory Committee.

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The city denied that request, so Sebern filed suit. She even received donations from several other concerned community members to help her pay for the fight.

This week, the judge ruled the city must turn over 45 of the 49 pages Sebern requested. The judge also required the city to cover the cost of Sebern's attorney fees.

"It was actually quite astounding," Sebern said of the decision. "(The judge) understood the merits of the case, so I was absolutely thrilled."

The documents are required to be released 21 days from the date of the order, Jan. 11. That means they will be released before the city council is set to vote on the proposal on Feb. 8.

"I think it's important for the public to know how disgraceful it really is to have to do something like this. So, the, the CORA request was for documents that were that we should have rightfully received from the beginning," Sebern said. "I think if if there's anything bottom line to this is that the citizens of Denver worked very hard to support themselves and to pay their taxes, our tax money pays those in public positions, who then turn around and stick it to us, then we have to go back to our hard earned money to bring a court challenge to hold them accountable when they're negligent in their duty to us. I think that's very sobering."

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A spokesperson for the mayor's office has not returned a request for comment about the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the city's Community Planning and Development Office said, "Community Planning and Development has previously released all documents related to Group Living in response to numerous CORA requests over the past year. We were not a party to this court case and don't have a comment on it. The group living amendment package is a much-needed update to Denver's zoning code that will enable more and better housing opportunities for all residents. Our staff has worked steadfastly with City Council, housing providers, and thousands of Denver residents for over three years in order to thoroughly research and refine these amendments. It is time to take them to a vote of City Council, so the neighborhood groups and residents who have been waiting for these can begin to benefit."

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