Washington State Woman Wins Sunshine Week Contest

By: Press Release | SunshineWeek.org

RESTON, Va. – A Washington state woman who used the courts to force the disclosure of public records that revealed corruption in her county auditor’s office is the winner of the 2011 American Society of News Editors Local Heroes contest.

Gloria Howell of Stevenson, Wash., is one of three citizens recognized by ASNE in its national contest honoring individuals who fought tirelessly last year to make their state or local public institutions more open and accessible. The announcement of the Local Heroes kicks off Sunshine Week, which began yesterday.

Howell will accept her award at the ASNE Convention, April 6-9, at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina.

Howell, a former Stevenson school board member, got involved after her daughter, Angela Moser, was allegedly fired from the Skamania County auditor’s office for theft and because of her concerns about irregularities in ballot processing and alleged misuse of public funds. Howell filed suit to obtain the records. The suit resulted in a criminal investigation by the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office, a criminal referral to the Washington State Attorney General, an investigation and report by the Washington State Auditor, and the resignation of Skamania County Auditor Michael J. Garvison.

“The recognition, for me, it’s nice, but for crying out loud, if we can’t make a difference for our people, how are we going to move forward?” Howell said.

Harry Staley, Harriet Lloyd and the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition were chosen as second place winners. The father-daughter team, under the auspices of the coalition, successfully advocated for the Rhode Island General Assembly to publish in usable electronic format floor votes of the Rhode Island House and Senate on the General Assembly’s website.

Third place went to Thomas Scott Cline of Fort Defiance, Va. Cline was troubled by an increase in his property tax assessment. He sought out meeting minutes to explain how the change came about and eventually filed suit against the Board of Equalization and won. The court ordered that Cline’s assessment be revised and that he be reimbursed for court costs. It also spurred Augusta County to change its procedures and host an open government session for county employees.

In addition to the three winners, the judges awarded a special honorable mention to the city of Albany, Ore., for exemplary openness by a local government. Albany instituted groundbreaking transparent access to government information, resulting in local and national recognition and editorial support by the Salem (Ore.) Statesman-Review.

“As in the past, this year’s Local Hero winners showed how citizens, working individually or as a group, are able to use open government laws for the public good,” said Andrew N. Alexander, who chaired the judging. “Whether exposing official misconduct or simply focusing a spotlight on the performance of elected officials, sunshine laws help to ensure efficiency and honesty in government.”

Alexander was joined in the judging by Nicole Aro, organizing director, Sunlight Foundation; Jim Brady, digital media consultant, co-chair, ASNE FOI Committee; Ken Bunting, executive director, National FOI Coalition; and Pete Weitzel, retired coordinator, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.

Just over 30 nominations were received nationwide for the contest. All three winners were nominated by local citizens. Howell won an all-expense paid trip to San Diego. Lloyd and Staley will share the $500 second place prize. Cline will receive a $250 prize.

Lloyd, who is the executive director of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, said the organization is thrilled to win the award and is grateful for the work of the all-volunteer group. Staley is the founder of the coalition.

Cline said he was grateful for open records law that helped him in his public records battle in his county.

Sunshine Week, launched in 2005 by ASNE, is held annually to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include hundreds of print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

The week, March 13-19, is funded primarily by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami, ASNE Foundation and The Gridiron Club. Dozens of organizations are part of the national coalition.

For Sunshine Week this year, ASNE also launched a new, online, interactive game where players can test their knowledge of open government, the history of FOIA and how citizens can empower themselves. A sample open-government proclamation that can be used by citizens and community groups to fight for greater transparency in government also is available.

ASNE is a membership organization for leaders of multimedia news organizations and deans and endowed chairs at accredited journalism schools. ASNE focuses on open government and the First Amendment, journalism education, leadership and diversity.

For further information about the ASNE convention, please visit http://asne.org/asne11.

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