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. We’re proud to announce this year’s award winners and will celebrate them with a reception at Mujeres Brewing in Logan Heights (1983 Julian Ave.) from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 15. Light refreshments will be served. An RSVP is required. Please note that this is an outdoor venue, so dress appropriately.
Window Award: Paul Parker
SD-SPJ’s annual Window Award goes to a person or public agency that has prioritized transparency and access to information. This year’s recipient is Paul Parker, executive officer of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, or CLERB, which provides oversight of the San Diego Sheriff’s and Probation departments, including investigating deaths in custody and making policy recommendations. Under previous executive officers there was little engagement between CLERB and the community and strict rules about communication with the media. Under Parker’s leadership, CLERB has become a more proactive, responsive organization, which helps bolster the public trust in the review board’s mission. Parker has proactively met with community groups and organizations to discuss how CLERB functions and the role of oversight. He’s also authored more detailed, insightful annual reports. Perhaps most important, though, are the summaries of cases the board’s investigative staff provide for review each month in which they include every morsel of information they’re legally allowed to provide. Parker regularly meets with families of people who’ve died in jail and, last year oversaw virtual town halls about in-custody deaths and the Center for Policing Equity’s report on racial disparities in traffic stops and use of force. Parker is also very responsive to media requests and each month posts to CLERB’s website his communications with board members about important updates and news articles concerning CLERB and law enforcement oversight. We hope other public officials and agencies take note.
Wall Award: San Diego County
The 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. Unfortunately, this award will again go to San Diego County, marking the third time in six years. Reporters from multiple news organizations throughout the region continue to struggle to gather basic information from the county’s communications team in a timely manner. The communications office, led by Michael Workman, typically requires reporters to submit requests through email and often provides terse responses that only raise more questions. Officials leading county agencies and initiatives are rarely made available for interviews, which could provide reporters — and thus the public — with more context and insight on their work. Public records requests can sit unanswered for unreasonable lengths of time. We became hopeful for real change when the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to establish a new transparency advisory committee, and when officials agreed to create an online public request portal to track and manage requests. But we have not seen the shift to a more transparent county government that the committee presented and the request portal is taking longer to roll out than we would have liked. The same problems continue and it’s happening at a detriment to the community. We hope this award will remind San Diego County that the public deserves transparency.
Sunshine Award: Trust SD Coalition
SD-SPJ’s 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. This year’s recipient is the TRUST SD Coalition, an alliance of 30-plus community organizations that advocates for government transparency in surveillance.
The coalition formed in 2019 to address the city of San Diego’s “smart” street lights, which were being used for surveillance without the public’s knowledge or consent. Since then, TRUST SD has written two city of San Diego ordinances that outline how the city acquires and operates surveillance technology, such as streetlight cameras, noise-detecting microphones, body-worn cameras and license plate readers.
TRUST SD’s first ordinance, adopted by the City Council last April, established a privacy advisory board to provide community oversight on surveillance proposals, with seats reserved for residents who have been historically affected. Its second, called the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology ordinance, was adopted last August. It ensures that any proposed surveillance measures are reviewed by the City Council initially and annually, and guarantees that these meetings allow feedback from the public, with sessions held in districts that will be affected.
These achievements, in addition to the coalition’s ongoing educational and advocacy work, have significantly improved transparency and protected San Diegans’ civil liberties.