James Madison Freedom of Information Award Winners - Page 3

SF journalism association honors this year's First Amendment heroes
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(Christopher Jasmin)

ANDREW MCINTOSH AND JOHN HILL, SACRAMENTO BEE

Two reporters from the Sacramento Bee, Andrew McIntosh and John Hill, get Freedom of Information props for exposing the cronyism and the corruption of the California Highway Patrol.

The two wrote a series of articles detailing how the CHP violated state and department regulations in awarding contracts for items ranging from pistols to helicopters.

"The CHP spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on equipment and goods," McIntosh told the Guardian. "That's taxpayer money."

McIntosh said he and Hill took a systematic look at the department's bidding process and found it was not competitive. The investigation led to the suspension of one officer, Gregory Williams, who the reporters found had awarded $600,000 worth of contracts to his daughter's company for license plate scanning devices, $500,000 of which was canceled after the reporters exposed the scandal.

The reporters also found the CHP, which controls signature gathering at the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state buildings, denied more than 100 applications for permission to register voters or solicit signatures. Other stories pushed Senate majority leader Gloria Romero and Assemblymember Bonnie Garcia to call for a state audit of the CHP.

McIntosh told us the investigation showed "the CHP is not above public scrutiny or the law when it comes to business dealings." (Albon)

MEERA PAL, CONTRA COSTA TIMES

A good mayoral race isn't really fun unless a bit of scandal emerges, like it did in Pleasanton two weeks before the November 2006 election.

Meera Pal decided to research the roots of a story that was handed to her by city council member Steve Brozosky, who was challenging incumbent mayor Jennifer Hosterman. Brozosky gave Pal e-mails his campaign treasurer obtained through open-records laws that showed Hosterman may have used her city e-mail account to solicit campaign donations and endorsements, a violation of state law.

But Pal went beyond Brozosky's story and submitted her own public records requests for the city e-mail account of the mayor, as well as a year's worth of e-mail from Brozosky and the three other council members.

Pal's public records request revealed that Brozosky's inbox was completely void of any e-mail, something neither he nor the city's IT manager could explain. Brozosky is a computer expert who runs a company that vends city Web site software, so his technical expertise made the situation even more suspicious.

Investigations revealed it was just a setting on his computer that was inadvertently scrubbing the e-mail from the city's server. Though both violations aren't necessarily serious crimes, the race was close enough that dirt on either side could have had a profound impact on the outcome, and the results show 68,000 voters who were truly torn during the last two weeks before election day while Pal was reporting these stories. Hosterman eventually won by just 188 votes. (Amanda Witherell)

SUSAN SWARD, BILL WALLACE, ELIZABETH FERNANDEZ, AND SETH ROSENFELD, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

In the wake of 2003's so-called Fajitagate police scandal — in which San Francisco officer Alex Fagan Jr. and others were accused of assaulting and then covering up their alleged vicious beating of innocent citizens — the San Francisco Chronicle uncovered records showing that Fagan's short history on the force was marked by regular incidents of abusive behavior, the kind of records that should have served as a warning for the problems to come.

"We decided to take a look to see how common it was. And we spent a lot of time doing that," Steve Cook, the Chronicle editor of what became last year's five-part "Use of Force" series, told the Guardian.