FLORIDA'S FIRST AMENDMENT FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES WINNER OF THE 2015
PETE WEITZEL/FRIEND OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT AWARD
The First Amendment Foundation is pleased to announce
Barbara Jeffords Lemley
, a Lake City resident, and
, publisher of the
Columbia County Observer
, as the recipients of the 2015
Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award
"The determination and dedication of people like Barbara and Stew to hold a government agency accountable for its actions are at the core of our public records law, and we need more people like them to help us do what we do. To recognize them and their hard work with this award will hopefully encourage others to do the same," said First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen.
Lemley was profiled in an Associated Press story last March regarding her battle to gain access to public records from the Lake Shore Hospital Authority (LSHA).
Lemley's first requests for public records were denied. Subsequent requests were heavily redacted, incomplete, or denied completely.
Then Lemley was told she would have to pre-pay for any records sought, which meant driving to the authority's office, depositing as little as 30 cents, then returning another day to actually get the record requested. The authority's policy required citizen Lemley to give 24 hours notice of a records request, then limited record viewing to a single hour beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Lilker reported on this and other violations of open government laws by the hospital authority in his newspaper, the
Columbia County Observer
, and set up a separate webpage on how the authority was "Keeping the Public in the Dark" by denying records, holding meetings without an advance public agenda and refusing to make public copies of agenda items being voted on.
He also filed a lawsuit,
Stewart Lilker vs. Lake Shore Hospital Authority, challenging the authority's policies. Lilker won. The authority appealed - and lost again. It's fight against the law costing taxpayers an estimated $300,000.
"This is the first time in the history of the award that a newspaper publisher and citizen have received the award and the vote by our board was unanimous," Petersen said.
The Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award was created in 1995 to recognize the significant contribution made by Pete Weitzel, former managing editor of the
, and founder and past president of the First Amendment Foundation, in the area of open government. The Award is given annually to someone in Florida who has made a significant contribution to the cause of furthering open government. Past recipients of the award can be found on the Foundation's website,
The 2015 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award will be presented at the Foundation's annual Sunshine Recognition luncheon on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee.