The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition honored Salida City Attorney Geoff Wilson with the Sue O’Brien Award for Public Service in a ceremony on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol Wednesday, May 9.
The coalition presents the award “as warranted – not on an annual basis, but to recognize a career, or a specific action, that displays a public servant’s commitment to the principles of open and transparent government.”
A statement by CFOIC Board Secretary Fred Brown describes the award as “specifically for a person with a professional role in government who displays a dedication to the public’s right to know.
“It’s named for the late Sue O’Brien, who had been both a government employee, as Gov. Dick Lamm’s press secretary, and a champion of a free press and open government – as a local and national radio reporter, University of Colorado journalism professor and editor of The Denver Post’s editorial page.”
“There can be no doubt that Geoff is well-deserving of this recognition,” CFOIC Board of Directors President Steve Zansberg said.
In Wilson’s case, the honor recognizes 27 years of work as general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League and his “continuing support of the principles of transparency and open government.”
As CML attorney, Wilson represented the interests of the league’s 265-member municipalities before the Colorado General Assembly. His efforts focused on legislation concerning open records, open meetings and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment.
“I have a strong belief that transparency enhances the effectiveness of government, and exceptions should be narrow,” Wilson said. “I also don’t think it’s the role of open meetings laws to protect public officials from people’s opinions. As Harry Truman once said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’”
Wilson also emphasized his belief that, “In government, you need a sense of irony and a sense of humor.”
Wilson grew up on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, Wash. “I’m a small-town guy, and I enjoy working for small municipalities. … I love working for Salida. It’s a great community, and I appreciate the can-do attitude of the local officials.”
Wilson reminisced about paying his way through college by working summers – “You could still do that back then” – and saving money for law school while working for two years in a factory that salvaged lead from car batteries.
While attending law school, Wilson clerked for the Oregon Legislature and attributes that experience as inspiring the direction of his legal career.
Wilson said he met his wife in law school, and the couple were married in Washington on the day that Mt. St. Helens erupted. “It was like a sign from God, and I missed it!” Wilson’s hearty laugh left little doubt that he follows his own advice about having a sense of humor.