Every year, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honors public officials, individuals and agencies who did the best (and the worst) job of ensuring that government is accessible and transparent.
The Window Award goes to the person or public agency that prioritized transparency and made information accessible. Our Wall Award goes to the person or public agency that made it difficult for journalists to do their jobs by ignoring information requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know. And our Sunshine Award goes to a journalist or community member who went above and beyond to make the government more transparent and hold elected officials accountable.
Window Award: Dave Rolland, City of San Diego
We’re pleased to give our 2021 Window Award to Dave Rolland, senior communications adviser to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. Rolland had a long career as a journalist before transitioning to government communications roles, first in the state Legislature, then the city of San Diego. While serving as the council communications director for City Council President Georgette Gómez, Rolland started The People’s Business, a blog explaining in plain language items of public interest on the council’s meeting agendas. These agendas can be complicated for the average person to understand, but Rolland made them accessible and provided important context for key issues.
Journalists also find Rolland easy to reach and quick to respond, even when he’s not the right person to answer our questions. His initiative is a great example of a public servant going the extra mile to show a true commitment to open government.
Wall Award: San Diego County
We recognize it’s been a difficult year for the county as it grappled with an unprecedented health crisis, and we commend county staff and elected officials for holding frequent press conferences to update the public on the pandemic. But certain actions have shown that the county still has work to do when it comes to transparency. County officials stopped responding to public records requests, telling journalists that things were “on hold” due to the public health emergency. Yet other counties and government agencies that faced similar challenges amid the pandemic still managed to honor the California Public Records Act.
Equally troubling were efforts by county officials to kill a KPBS story examining leaked data — data that the county had refused to turn over — on COVID-19 outbreak locations. County officials called the story “not responsible journalism.” As you’ll see below, we disagree.
Three years ago, San Diego County received our Wall Award for its lack of transparency surrounding the Hepatitis A crisis. Recently the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to establish a new transparency advisory committee. This is encouraging, and we hope it leads to real change. While we wait, we hope this year’s Wall Award will push the county in the right direction.
Sunshine Award: Claire Trageser, Katy Stegall, Amita Sharma and David Washburn of KPBS
Last December KPBS published a three-part series examining previously undisclosed data on COVID-19 outbreak locations. Claire Trageser was the project’s lead reporter with additional reporting by Katy Stegall and Amita Sharma. David Washburn was the series editor.
Multiple media organizations sued the county to try to get this data. The county argued that making the information public would hamper contact tracing efforts and discourage businesses from reporting COVID-19 outbreaks. The media organizations argued — and SD-SPJ agrees — that the public interest outweighs those concerns.
The KPBS reporting team showed courage in standing up to the county’s efforts to withhold this information from the public, and we are pleased to present them with this year’s Sunshine Award.