The University of Colorado is so serious about keeping beloved buffalo mascot Ralphie's home location secret, officials redacted her ranch name and location from a Daily Camera records request, citing a provision created after 9/11 to protect against the release of sensitive security matters.
"This is a very creative use of that exception," said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. "I'm assuming that protecting Ralphie from frat boys is their reasoning. I think this provision of CORA was intended to address more serious matters than the location of a college mascot."
The redaction of Ralphie's abode was justified under the grounds of being "specialized details of security arrangements."
"Release of these records would be contrary to the public interest," wrote Scott Bocim, CU's custodian of records.
When asked what about sharing Ralphie's address would jeopardize the public good, CU spokesman Ryan Huff said: "We care deeply about Ralphie and want to ensure her well-being."
John Graves, CU's Ralphie program manager, took a more nuanced approach in explaining the tight lips around Ralphie's locale.
Buffalo and behold, Ralphie has had a history of dastardly deeds committed against her, Graves said.
In the 1970s, Air Force Academy cadets kidnapped Ralphie I in the night leading up to a football game they played against CU.
"They held her hostage," Graves said.
Ralphie I and Ralphie II were also vandalized with spray paint before games against Oklahoma State University.
"One time, some kids snuck into the vet hospital where she was staying and spray-painted her orange with the letters O-S-U," Graves said.
In response to those incidents, he said CU began keeping Ralphie's digs under wraps.
"We keep where she lives so secret one, because of her safety," Graves said. "We don't want visiting fans to know where she lives. We don't want people out there messing with her or harming her. We want to control when Ralphie gets to see the public and when she gets to hang out on her ranch and just relax and be calm. No one goes out there except the Ralphie handlers."
Another reason for the incognito location is to protect the public from getting hurt, too, he said.
"Most people don't know how to interact with a buffalo," Graves said. "She's very well-trained and well-behaved, but we know what we're doing, and other people don't. We don't want them hurting themselves and Ralphie."
Questions about where Ralphie roams when she's not running the football field are among the most common he receives.
"Every few weeks, some news organization is asking us to go out there and take pictures of Ralphie," Graves said. "But this has been our policy for decades. So many people like Ralphie and enjoy her. Everyone wants to know every little detail about her."
One little detail revealed in the records request: CU budgeted $31,500 for Ralphie's caretaking and general operations surrounding her upkeep and mascot duties for 2017.
Roberts said a more typical example of the records request redaction used by CU would be if the president of the United States is coming to town and traffic needs to be redirected safely or in the case of protecting certain secure computer networks.
Out of a log Roberts started in 2013 archiving about 1,600 record request questions he has received, he could only find one other case in which this exemption was used — a Colorado Springs journalist being denied surveillance video by the city.
"I wonder if this Ralphie case is a little far off from what legislators were intending to do after 9/11 when they added this provision to CORA," Roberts said.
Comparatively, Colorado State University is also clandestine when it comes to where mascot Cam the Ram lives.
"CAM is our beloved mascot, and he spends a lot of time with CSU fans during the week," CSU spokesman Mike Hooker wrote in an email. "But even CAM needs some downtime and privacy. We are very careful to tend to CAM's safety and well-being, and because of that his location is not something we disclose."
CSU would use the same denial CU invoked — "specialized details of security arrangements" — if someone were to request the public documents, Hooker said.
To challenge the provision CU used in the Daily Camera's Colorado Open Records Act request, Roberts said, it would have to be brought before a court.
"Is it worth challenging?" he asked. "Probably not. But if somebody did challenge it, would a judge think it's an appropriate use of CORA? I have no idea."
Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org