Announcing the 2016 Sunshine Award, Plus Window and Wall Nominees

Please join SPJ in celebrating the Sunshine Award winner, as well as the Window and Wall nominees, on Wednesday, April 6 at Fifty Seven Degrees. We will toast the winners at a reception beginning at 6 p.m.

2016 Sunshine Award

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The San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to present Maksim Pecherskiy with its annual Sunshine Award for his work to create an open data portal at the city of San Diego. Sunshine Week celebrates the importance of open access, underscores the value of transparent government and reminds the public of their right to government information. As San Diego’s chief data officer, Pecherskiy has done all three.

The city of San Diego has lagged behind other big national cities in its open data efforts, but that appears to be changing. The city will begin publishing data sets online in July, and already has put up a partial list of what data it will post, as well as inviting the public to vote on what data they would like to see first. In his first year working for the city, Pecherskiy did all of the groundwork to make that happen. He negotiated with city departments and the city attorney to create an inventory of all the city’s data and is going through each database to make it ready to be published. He also created an open budget tool to allow residents to explore how their city spends its money.

Pecherskiy received numerous nominations from journalists and members of San Diego’s open data community. Here are excerpts from a few of them:

I have witnessed Maksim at nearly every OpenSanDiego.org meeting, where he has brought an amazing array of city leaders from departments including parking, treasurer, water, wastewater, the Deputy COO, IT, Ethics, his Performance & Analytics team and more. Our group has learned more in the last year than some of us have in the last five-plus. What’s been fascinating is the enthusiasm everyone of these city staffers has brought to the meetings, their presentations and in follow-up conversations.

Maksim has taken a human-centered but, scientific approach to assessing our city data libraries within dozens of departments. He’s amassed a list of thousands of datasets and is spending this budget year learning what’s what and which datasets can be sustainably offered to the public.

Maksim published his work and methodology in an open Gitbook and has been publishing his contributions to a range of open-source work here. I recently heard him describe that he has also been learning new programming languages like Django to help better use the data he’s been collecting and has been sharing his experience through a variety of forums.

— Jerry Hall, Open San Diego

He’s done incredible groundwork in figuring out what data San Diego has available, working with city people on-eon-one to get heir buy-in to make those data public, then designing a framework for exposing those data to end-users in a meaningful way.

I know this because I’ve worked with Maksim and the team he helped hire closely at our local Code for America brigade.

— Ben Cipollini, Code for America

I first met him at a local hackathon and have since seen him present at events like SmartCities and in open gov meetings. His contributions to open data and transparency are important and just getting started in this new department of Performance & Analytics at the city.

— Gabriela Dow, Plug and Play San Diego

For 2015, I would highlight his many talks in front of audiences openly discussing city data. I would highlight his role in bringing out city department leaders to discuss open data and how the community can work with city government to use open data. I would highlight the July 2015 report where he laid out the entire plan for inventorying and then opening up every possible city database. The Open Government Budget Tool from 2015 is also a significant step forward for the City.

— Seth Hall, San Diego Hacks/Hackers

I’ve been impressed with the rigor and thoroughness of the open data implementation so far, particularly with the inventory process, and the budget tool is an excellent contribution to openness and transparency.

I suspect that his most important contributions are yet to come, with the release of the inventory and the open data portal, but in the last year he’s laid the groundwork for the portal, and done so in a way that exemplifies the openness that we should expect from an open data project.

— Eric Busboom, San Diego Regional Data Library

2016 Window and Wall Nominees

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In the second distinguished installment of our annual awards program, we present 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.

Window Nominees:

San Diego Superior Court spokeswoman Karen Dalton
For years, it was difficult to get basic information on happenings at the San Diego County Superior Court – and rarely were court officials prepared for major news events that hordes of reporters.

That’s changed since Karen Dalton was hired to be the public information officer for San Diego Superior Court. The former broadcast reporter is effective and responsive and has helped reporters do better job covering court happenings as a result.

San Diego City Clerk Elizabeth Maland
San Diego City Clerk Elizabeth Maland has been running the clerk’s office for more than 10 years. In that time, she’s consistently been helpful and kind to both reporters and members of the public seeking information. She will direct her staff to compile databases of voting records or past council actions and takes time to answer questions about the complicated city bureaucracy. She also posts campaign finance information and dockets and minutes quickly, and uses her Twitter account to broadcast council votes (almost always beating every news organization).

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Thornton
Timely information wasn’t always a given from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. The situation has greatly improved on Thornton’s watch. Her frequent news releases and advisories provide relevant information on key cases. She is responsive to inquiries and quickly provides plea agreements and other public documents that may be difficult to obtain under deadline pressures.

Wall Nominees:

California Department of Motor Vehicles
For years, the state Department of Motor Vehicles released driver’s license photos of deceased individuals to the media. That recently changed without a public discussion.

Instead of a thoughtful public debate on what would be an appropriate release time or a consideration to the unintended consequences of a new policy, the agency decided to stop releasing photos. The Radio Television Digital News Association panned that decision, saying it will force journalists to obtain the photos in other ways, including directly asking family members. A better way is to obtain the photos from a third-party source like the DMV.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has found herself at the center of two major public records disputes in recent history. In 2014, she refused for weeks to release a letter of recommendation she’d written for the son of a donor embroiled in a campaign finance scandal. And after a media coalition threatened to sue her, she released that letter exclusively to an outlet that wasn’t part of that coalition. Dumanis again battled with multiple media outlets in 2015 when she for months refused to turn over private surveillance footage of a fatal police shooting because it could lead to a “rush to judgment” of the officer, who was eventually cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Dumanis, whose office also sought to keep the victim’s family from releasing the video, eventually shared edited footage after a judge ruled in the family’s favor.

California Coastal Commission
When California Coastal Commissioners earlier this year fired their executive director of more than four years, the decision stunned almost everyone, and not just because it followed seven hours of testimony supporting Charles Lester’s stewardship of the state agency.

What was especially troubling is how the commissioners made their decision — retreating behind closed doors and then offering no explanation for the dismissal, even after their own legal counsel said they were free to discuss any current issues involving Lester’s performance.

Commissioners have denied that the dismissal had anything to do with reported efforts to clear the way for more development along the coast, but we will never know because they have yet to explain themselves.

We will reveal the winners at a ceremony (open to the public, of course) on Wednesday, April 6, 6 to 9 p.m. at Fifty Seven Degrees, 1735 Hancock St, San Diego, CA 92101. We will also recognize our 2016 Sunshine Award winner.

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