San Diego SPJ is proud to announce the finalists (below) in the first distinguished installment of our new annual awards program, the Windows and Walls of San Diego Journalism.
The Window Award will go to the public official or agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know last year. The Wall Award will go to the public official or agency that most ignored media requests or otherwise compromised the public’s right to know.
We will reveal the winners at a ceremony (open to the public, of course) on Thursday, March 19, when we will also recognize our 2015 Sunshine Award winners for supporting transparency in government, the cornerstone of democracy.
We are pleased to announce that those 2015 Sunshine Award winners are J.W. August, David Gotfredson and Paul Krueger, three TV journalists from (until recently) competing networks who frequently collaborate and lead the local charge to pressure officials to open public records.
Please join us on March 19 at 6 p.m. at The T Lounge (formerly Bamboo Lounge), 1475 University Ave., in San Diego to celebrate the best and commiserate about the worst in local journalism.
City of Del Mar
In response to a California Public Records Act request, the city of Del Mar released a 10-minute video last year that showed a reserve sheriff’s deputy reacting angrily after a traffic stop by a city park ranger. The deputy lost his job. The video was released in September and the city revised its body-camera policy in December, acting in the public’s best interest at a time when other police agencies have refused to release body-camera videos. One nomination said: “One request submitted and footage was released.”
San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey showed leadership on San Diego’s open data policy, from conception to approval by the City Council in December. The city expects to launch a user-friendly web portal for digital information from crime statistics to water consumption in July 2016, a feat that could put San Diego among the first in the nation to post nearly all of its online data that way. One nomination said: “Without him, we would not have an open data policy in San Diego.”
After many years as a journalist, Mike Lee knows exactly what reporters want and need in his role as a public affairs and media relations representative for the San Diego County Water Authority. He’s quick on the return phone call and email, he lines up the right people for interviews, and he turns over relevant reports and data on the county’s water history without prompting. One nomination said: “Great, great resource for reporters who might be covering drought for a very long time.”
Former newspaper writer Gerry Braun might have enjoyed writing about the Balboa Park Celebration, a city-funded nonprofit in charge of a centennial party for Balboa Park that received $3 million but never threw a party. Yet Braun was first spokesman and then interim CEO for the group, which for months resisted opening its contracts, letters and other documents to public inspection. One Balboa Park volunteer said Braun “scapegoated” the public and park institutions when explaining his group’s failures.
For weeks, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis refused to release a college letter of recommendation that came to light right before her June election even though other politicians quickly turned over comparable public records. Hers was to the University of San Diego for the son of a campaign contributor involved in a campaign finance scandal. After a media coalition threatened to sue her, Dumanis gave the letter exclusively to an outlet that wasn’t part of the coalition.
The San Diego Police Department
The SDPD repeatedly told the public that getting police body cameras would increase public trust and add transparency. But instead, Chief Shelley Zimmerman has publicly said she won’t release most of the footage to the public and that if she did, it would be at her discretion. That doesn’t seem to jibe with the public records law and runs counter to what the public believes body cameras do: Provide a record of what happened. And law enforcement agencies elsewhere are releasing the footage upon request.