The winners of the N.C. Open Government Coalition's third annual Sunshine Awards were announced at Sunshine Day on Elon University's campus Monday. The winners are WFAE associate news director Lisa Worf, Elon law fellow Elliot Engstrom and Orange County Government.
The N.C. Open Government Coalition announced the winners of its 2017 Sunshine Awards Monday in Elon at the organizations annual Sunshine Day event.
The awards are intended to honor people and organizations whose work helps keep citizens informed about what their governments are up to. The coalition honors one outstanding journalist, government employee or organization, and an advocate for transparency each year. In some years a citizen award is also given out. One was not awarded in 2017.
The winner of the 2017 Sunshine Award for journalism is Lisa Worf, WFAE associate news director. Worf was nominated for her ongoing reporting on a new law that took effect in 2016 governing how police video is made available to the public. The law exempted video from the public records law and created a new process through the courts for determining whether or not it should be released. Worf was one of the first people in the state to test the new process to gain access to a video of a police shooting. From preparing to file a petition with the court, to arguing against attorneys representing the police department and district attorneys office, Worf took her audience with her through the journey. After initially being denied, Worf eventually convinced a court to release the video.
The winner of the 2017 Sunshine Award for advocacy goes to Elliot Engstrom, fellow at the Elon University School of Law. Prior to joining the law school, Engstrom was an attorney at the Civitas Institute’s Center for Law and Freedom. It was in that role that he took the case of Ellen Deitz Tucker, in the public interest, who was trying to get information from the city of Belmont in Gaston County related to her sister’s death. Engstrom represented Tucker in a lawsuit against the city over it’s refusal to release a report on the police department that was prepared by a private investigative agency on the city’s behalf. In August, the court ruled that significant portions of the report are public record and must be released.
The winner of the 2017 Sunshine Award for government is Orange County Government on the basis of its efforts to move information online to ease access. In November 2016, Orange County launched a new transparency site that allows users to easily find such things as budgets, financial audits, email sent to county commissioners, contracts, expenditures, planning permits, and streaming video of meetings. By creating a portal for easier access to these important records, Orange County is proactively making records available before a public records request is necessary.