Victoria Advocate, KXAN win Spirit of FOI Awards for open government reporting

For Immediate Release

Sept. 20, 2019

AUSTIN – Two Texas news organizations have won the Spirit of FOI Award for reports exposing suspected corruption within the Calhoun Port Authority and the lack of access to information following the deaths of suspects in police custody.

The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award, presented by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, highlights journalism that upholds First Amendment principles and promotes or uses open government laws such as the Texas Public Information Act.

The awards were presented Friday at the FOI Foundation’s state conference in Austin.

The Victoria Advocate won in the Class A market category for using open government laws to hold public officials accountable. The Advocate filed more than 27 public records requests and filed a Texas Open Meetings Act lawsuit against the Calhoun Port Authority. The reporting revealed conflicts of interest by port authority leaders and resulted in the resignation of congressman-turned-lobbyist Blake Farenthold.

KXAN of Austin won in the Class AA large market category for addressing a loophole in state open government law that allows police to conceal information in cases that don’t end in conviction or deferred adjudication. KXAN’s series “Denied” told of those who died in police custody and the roadblocks to information about the last moments of their lives.

Honorable mention went to the Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press for reporting on loose regulations on polluters after Hurricane Harvey and to the Texas Observer for explaining the struggles in maintaining open government in Texas.

“Congratulations to the Spirit of FOI Award winners for their determined work investigating public officials and holding government accountable. Our transparency laws help make that possible. The people of Texas have a right to know whether our government is functioning as it should,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. 

The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the FOI Foundation’s former executive director. The awards contest is open to newspaper, broadcast and online journalism.