Utah SPJ chapter presents Sunshine and Black Hole Awards

For immediate release
Contact Linda Petersen, 801-554-7513

 

The Utah Headliners chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced the recipients of its Sunshine and Black Hole awards today, June 20, at the Fort Douglas Officers Club in Salt Lake City.

The Sunshine Award is given annually by the Utah Headliners chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to honor those organizations or individuals who further transparency and open government in our state.
This year, there are two recipients.

Sunshine Award

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross served as director of legal affairs in the Utah State Treasurer and Auditor’s office from April 1994 to December 2012. She was also an assistant attorney general from September 1991 to April 1994. She is currently a director with the Utah State Treasurer.

Ross served with the State Records Committee since its creation under GRAMA, first as its legal counsel and then as a member, eventually serving three terms as the committee’s chairwoman. During that time, Ross was an advocate for public access to government records and for openness and transparency in government.

During the HB477 fight, Ross was clearly on the side of open government, inviting lawmakers to come to the committee and see that the supposed concerns about GRAMA were already addressed. She also wrote an op-ed in support of GRAMA. For her long service to the cause of open government Utah Headliners recognizes Betsy Ross with the 2013 Sunshine Award.

SLPD Chief Chris Burbank

In an era when reporters frequently hear “no” to requests for public information, it is quite refreshing to hear not only a resounding “yes”, but let’s make it easy to access and open to everyone.  That’s exactly what Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said in response to a simple request from the Utah Headliners.  The concern was no access to the dispatch call list, which used to be open for anyone to review in hard copy form at the police station.  Of higher concern, was a list of pre-screened events being sent to the press as a “watch log” of pre-screened items deemed newsworthy by a police watch commander.   A group of concerned board members and news managers approached Burbank and his reply was to offer to create a real-time call log from all of the phone calls and other sources coming to the department.  The list would be available on-line and accessible to anyone in the community who’d like to see, journalists included.  The Utah Headliners recognizes Chief Burbank as someone who is fighting for transparency and accountability and honors him with the 2013 Sunshine Award.

Black Hole Award

UTA

The Utah Transit Authority is the recipient of this year’s Black Hole Award, a distinction the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists places on an individual or entity that distinguishes itself by creating barriers to the free flow of public information.

UTA’s nomination cited a dispute between the public entity and KSL-TV and the Deseret News over the release of retirement compensation information about longtime executive John Inglish.

The media organizations eventually learned Inglish, a public employee, would receive a $200,000 annual pension for the remainder of his life, but only after engaging in a lengthy appeals process that enlisted attorneys and engaged both the state’s open records committee and its open records ombudswoman, according to the nomination.

In a separate case, The Salt Lake Tribune still has not received crime data it first requested from UTA in May 2012 despite having prevailed at a November 2012 state records committee hearing on the request. UTA appealed the committee’s decision to 3rd District Court, where a decision is pending.

“Both of these instances reflect what seems to be UTA’s general stance that if they stonewall long enough when information is requested that they don’t want to share, the media will just move on,” Linda Petersen, Utah Headliners FOI chair said. “But this is information the public has a right to know. The media should not have to fight for it on the public’s behalf. UTA’s Black Hole Award is well-deserved.”

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