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State Journal reporters cited for open records work; win 'Opees' from Freedom of Information Council

State Journal reporters cited for open records work; win 'Opees' from Freedom of Information Council

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Two Wisconsin State Journal reporters, one current and one former, have been recognized by an open government group for their work on exposing sexual harassment allegations in government and higher education.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council on Wednesday announced the Openness Awards, or “Opees.”

“For more than a decade, the Opees have served to remind state residents that open government is a perpetual struggle, with heroes and villains,” said Bill Lueders, president of the WFOIC. “We need as many of the former as we can get.”

In the open records scoop of the year, or “Scoopee” category, State Journal Capitol reporter Molly Beck was recognized for her work on complaints against four lawmakers, including one complaint that led to a $75,000 settlement, and former State Journal higher education reporter Nico Savidge was recognized for his work on exposing weaknesses in UW-Madison’s reporting procedures on sexual harrassment and allegations involving multiple accusations against a professor that led to officials acknowledging the school’s failure to address them.

UW-Milwaukee student reporters at Media Milwaukee also were recognized in the category for their work on dozens of allegations of harassment against professors and staff at the school.

Tim Damos, reporter at the Baraboo News Republic, was honored with the Media Openness, or “Mopee” award, for his work involving Sauk County officials, resulting in one official’s departure and contract buyout; false statements made by County Board members; and a former highway commissioner trying to get auto racing tickets from a contractor.

Also recognized were:

  • Joe Terry, former village administrator in Port Edwards, for his investigation into alleged open meeting and ethics violations by the Village Board. He won the Citizen Openness Award, or “Copee.”
  • Will Kramer, a risk management and safety consultant, who exposed dangers at industrial barrel recycling plants and shared his work with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when nothing was done. He won the Whistleblower of the Year, or “Whoopee.”
  • The Wisconsin Legislature, with the “Nopee,” or No Friend of Openness, for refusing to provide records electronically; denying requests for records involving sexual harassment; secret meetings about the budget; and selectively blocking access to social media accounts.
  • Gov. Scott Walker won the Political Openness Award, or “Popee,” for issuing an executive order for the second straight year to state agencies to get them to improve their performance on open records requests, and to conduct regular training for all employees and board, council and commission members.

“Walker’s efforts in this area are much appreciated,” Lueders said.

The winners are invited to the eighth annual Wisconsin Watchdog Awards in Madison on April 19, presented by the Freedom of Information Council, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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