2016 Sunshine Award Winners

The winners of the Second Annual N.C. Open Government Coalition Sunshine Award Contest were announced Monday in Hickory. They are Henderson County Attorney Charles Russell Burrell, WRAL.com reporter Tyler Dukes and Carolina Public Press Open Government Contributor Jon Elliston. 

The N.C. Open Government Coalition announced the winners of its 2016 Sunshine Awards Monday in Hickory

2016 Sunshine Award winners from left to right: Tyler Dukes of WRAL.com, Russ Burrell of Henderson County, Jon Elliston of Carolina Public Press
durring its annual Sunshine Day conference. The awards are intended to honor people whose work helps keep citizens informed about what their governments are up to. The coalition honors one outstanding journalist, government employee and advocate for transparency each year. In some years a citizen award is also given out. One was not awarded in 2016. 

The winner of the 2016 Sunshine Award for Government is Henderson County Attorney Charles Russell “Russ” Burrell. The winner of the 2016 Sunshine Award for Advocacy is Carolina Public Press Open Government Contributing Editor Jon Elliston. WRAL>com Public Records Reporter Tyler Dukes won the 2016 Sunshine Award for Journalism. 

A graduate of Duke University and the University of North Carolina School of Law, Russ Burrell has served as the Henderson County attorney for 28 years.  He was nominated by an experienced reporter in Western North Carolina:  “Mr. Burrell is knowledgeable on the state’s open records and open meetings law. He responds quickly to records requests. His response is generally the fastest in Western North Carolina. His philosophy, in my experience, is positive. He tends to take the view that records are open to inspection from the start instead of the view that they are secret from the start unless proven otherwise. This view means Henderson County residents have a better chance of understanding the operations of their government when those operations are relevant to the news or current events.”

Jon Elliston is an experienced reporter and freelance writer in Western North Carolina. He is the open government editor for the Carolina Public Press. In the past he has served as managing editor of the Mountain Xpress newspaper in Asheville and as a reporter for the Independent Weekly in Durham.  Jon was nominated for the advocacy award for a combination of his work as a journalist in using public records to unveil important stories and his efforts to further educate people in Western North Carolina about their rights of access to information. Jon has organized and led public records training workshops, speaks frequently about the importance of government transparency and throughout 2015 maintained the CPP’s “Document of the Day” section, which gave citizens direct access to important records from state and local governments on pressing topics.  His public records reporting in 2015 included an extensive investigation into closed sessions in Western North Carolina, ongoing reporting on missing evidence in the Asheville Police Department, and a report that revealed Polk County’s efforts to give its water system away.

Tyler Dukes has served a public records reporter for WRAL.com, where he has been since 2013. He is an adjunct lecturer at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism and in the past served as the managing editor at the Reporter’s Lab at Duke University. He is a graduate of N.C. State. Tyler was nominated in the journalism category for his exhaustive report on the final days of Michael Anthony Kerr, who died of dehydration in the custody of the N.C. Department of Adult Correction, as well as for his work developing tools and applications to make public records readily accessible for WRAL.com readers. When the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dumped the first 400,000 pages of what is expected to be a 5 million page records request in the academics and athletics scandal, it was not searchable. Tyler took the documents and created a database that would allow users to easily sift through the records.  Additionally, for the last two years Tyler has led a multi-newsroom, collaborative effort across multiple media outlets and platforms to highlight Sunshine Week through  public records reporting.