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Record of Hickenlooper's first months is lost in computer

10:27 AM, Dec 14, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - History's recollection of Gov. John Hickenlooper's legacy remains to be written, but it's certain to have some gaps.

A technological crash swallowed the calendar entries from Hickenlooper's first eight months in office.

"A server crash in 2011 caused information to be erased from the Governor's calendar for the days of January 1, 2011 to August 31, 2011," Ben Figa, deputy legal counsel to the governor, wrote in response to a request for copies of the entries.

All that remains of the governor's calendar from that time are his standing daily appointments - meetings with cabinet members and an hourlong meeting each evening that remains a mystery because details were redacted.

The governor's calendar is subject to public inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act. Exceptions in the law allow record custodians to withhold personal appointments and details of security arrangements.

"Some personal information is kept on the calendar to help avoid conflicts when scheduling other events," Figa said.

From a historical perspective, Hickenlooper's lost calendar entries cast a pall of mystery over an important chapter in his administration, particularly for biographers.

"The talk so much in executive administrations is about the first 100 days," said William Convery, Colorado's state historian. "The discussions of the first three or four months set the tone for the direction of an administration and the policy course it will take. Who he was meeting with are important moments in that transition phase."

The state maintains an archive of official papers from each governor in Colorado's history. The earliest tend to be little more than state of the state - and, before that, state of the territory - addresses to the Legislature.

"In time, beginning around the late 1800s, there's more correspondence," Convery said.

Those are the nuggets historians treasure most.

"What historians are really interested in are the papers and the correspondence that goes on between the governor and the heads of his agencies," Convery said. "They're particularly interested in a governor's policies and what the governor is thinking about specific events."

Outside of the contemporary era, he's not aware of gubernatorial calendars having been preserved, and he's also unaware of any gaps in modern governors' calendars similar to the hole in Hickenlooper's.

In addition to their future uses, the lost calendar pages could have a more immediate relevance.

Political strategist and former Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams said he expects the Republican field challenging the incumbent Democrat Hickenlooper in 2014 to seize this opportunity to attack the governor about his lost schedule.

"It shows a little bit of dysfunction in the governor's office that would certainly be fair game in a political campaign, especially if they're hiding behind the excuse that it can't be put back together," Wadhams said.

The governor's calendar is a window into his priorities, Wadhams said. It could answer how much time he's spent in what parts of the state and what he's spent that time doing. A central criticism from his Republican rivals has been that Hickenlooper gravitated toward the urban outposts of Denver and Boulder while largely ignoring rural parts of the state.

"If I were working for the governor, I'd be urging him to put this together to show how he's traveled the state and tried to stay in touch with the people of Colorado," Wadhams said. "I would be counseling his staff to go overboard to try to put this together and not hide behind some alleged computer crash."

Hickenlooper's staff has been reluctant to reconstruct his whereabouts during the lost calendar span because absolute accuracy could not be assured. His spokesman was unable to respond to questions about the lost calendar entries Friday, citing the demands on the governor's time that arose from the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial.

The lost months in Hickenlooper's calendar illustrate a widespread concern among historians about the fragile nature of electronically stored documents of historical significance, Convery said.

"We've been worrying about this for more than a decade," he said. "Our society is more literate than it has been in the last 50 years, but so much of that correspondence is ephemeral now. I've heard historians worry about what they're calling a dark age."

(Copyright © 2013 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved

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