Joann Bell, who retired recently after 24 years with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, was named winner Saturday of Freedom of
The group also presented its Ben Blackstock Award to The Oklahoman for its work to keep state employee birth dates open, and its Sunshine Award to state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, for his sponsorship and support of bills to increase transparency in government.
The Black Hole Award was for state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, for working to exempt state employees' birth dates.
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The awards presentation was in conjunction with Sunshine Week, which highlighted “Local Heroes” across the country who have played significant roles in fighting for open government.
About the winners
The Opala Award recognizes individuals who have promoted education about or protection of individual rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Bell, of Harrah, started with the ACLU as a part-time litigation coordinator in 1987 and then became the Oklahoma ACLU's second executive director in 1988. Bell went to work with the ACLU after a long but successful court battle. She was a plaintiff in a seminal 10th Circuit Court case on the separation of church and state.
Bell, a member of the Church of the Nazarene, and her co-plaintiff pursued the lawsuit in the face of community hostility.
The Oklahoman was named winner of the Blackstock Award, which goes to a nongovernmental person or organization that has shown a commitment to freedom of information.
The newspaper won the award for its work to keep state employees' birth dates available. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association wants the birth dates added to a list of information that is exempt from the state Open
Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson said the birth dates should be considered available to the public unless there are overriding reasons to shut them off. The OPEA has gone to court to prevent the state from making birth dates available upon request. The case is pending.
Terrill was named winner of the Black Hole Award — presented to someone who thwarts the free flow of information — for, among other things, introducing legislation that would
Murphey, a former member of the Guthrie City Council, received the Sunshine Award, which goes to a public official or governmental body that has shown a commitment to open meetings and open records.
He was elected to the state Legislature in 2006, campaigning on a platform of never accepting contributions or gifts from lobbyists or groups that employee lobbyists.
He has been an advocate of transparency in government since arriving at the state Capitol. A bill introduced by Murphey would require the Legislature to comply with the state open meeting and open records laws — just as any other state agency must do.