The Society of Professional Journalists San Diego Pro Chapter presented its second annual Sunshine Award to former San Diego City Council member Donna Frye on National Freedom of Information Day March 16.
The award honors Frye for her outstanding efforts in supporting transparency in government.
During her tenure on city council from 2001 to 2009, she was dedicated to open government, boycotting closed council sessions until city council rewrote its policy on such sessions, forcing the lifting of limits on public comment at meetings, forcing the public release of a study that determined the true costs of providing sewer service and showed that residential customers were partially subsidizing service for businesses, and helping pass a ballot measure that improved access to city records, among other efforts.
Frye said she often felt shut out and “punished” by the mayor and administration during her council tenure because of her outspokenness, and she said she was very pleased to be recognized for her work to make San Diego government more transparent.
“It feels like vindication for some of the years and years of crap I had to go through,” she said. “I’m so honored to receive this award. I’m excited to be here among troublemakers and rabble rousers. … You can call us muckrakers or troublemakers or whatever you want, but deep down we’re just people who don’t like to see people getting screwed.”
Frye said open government is important because transparency results in more efficient, financially responsible and fair government.
“What the public doesn’t know does hurt them,” Frye said. “The more information the public has and the more information city officials have, the better. It costs money when the public is left out and when information isn’t presented in a timely manner. You take the first step toward not releasing public information, and it has all sorts of ramifications, including financial ramifications.”
She also added that government benefits from listening to the citizens and activists who speak up at meetings.
“The public has some cool ideas,” Frye said. “Sure, there are some wingnuts in there, but the public has some pretty good ideas.”
SPJ presented the award during a Sunshine Week reception and program at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.
SPJ is part of the coalition that sponsors Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Sunshine Week is celebrated every year in mid-March, coinciding with National FOI Day and James Madison’s birthday on March 16.
Last year’s SPJ-SD Sunshine Award winner, State Sen. Leland Yee, introduced legislation declaring March 13-19 Sunshine Week in California. The bill, SCR 8, was passed unanimously in the State Senate March 3, was passed by the Assembly Rules Committee and is awaiting a vote in the State Assembly.
For more information about Sunshine Week, visit www.sunshineweek.org.