October 28, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUSTIN – Two Texas news organizations have won Spirit of FOI Awards for reporting on a city’s potential free speech and open meetings violations and for waging a legal battle to obtain public records in a fatal police encounter.
The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award, presented by the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, highlights journalism that upholds the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press and promotes or uses open government laws such as the Texas Public Information Act.
The winners – The Highlander of Marble Falls and The Dallas Morning News – will be honored in the foundation’s online awards program Nov. 10.
“We congratulate these Spirit of FOI honorees for standing up for the people’s right to know. Transparency laws can and should be used by journalists and all citizens to keep a watch on our government,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
The Highlander won in the Class A smaller market category for championing open government for the citizens of Meadowlakes when the city instituted overly restrictive rules for public comments and suggested citizens could be charged with a crime for what they say. The Highlander reported that the rules likely violated constitutional free speech rights and attempted to weaponize the Texas Open Meetings Act. The city council then rescinded its rules.
The Dallas Morning News won in the Class AA large market category for its persistent battle to obtain public records in the death of a mentally ill man who was restrained by police. After Dallas city officials refused to release records about the exchange, the Dallas Morning News went to court to get them. Ultimately, a judge ruled in the News’ favor, saying the public has a compelling interest in understanding what took place. Video footage of the encounter helped the community hold its government accountable.
Honorable mention in Class AA went to KXAN of Austin for its investigation of Texas law enforcement officers who surrender their peace officer licenses as a bargaining chip to get lenient sentences and avoid prison for committing crimes.
The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the FOI Foundation’s first executive director. The contest is open to newspaper, broadcast and online journalism.