By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – FOI (Freedom of Information) Oklahoma will host its annual awards banquet on Wednesday, October 2 at the University of Central Oklahoma – Nigh University Center in Edmond. The reception will begin at 6 p.m., with the dinner and program at 7 p.m. The deadline for ticket purchases is Sept. 25.
Founded in 1990, FOI Oklahoma is a statewide organization actively supporting those individuals and organizations who are working to open records or provide access to meetings illegally closed. The organization’s Board of Directors consists of attorneys, educators, journalists, state and elected officials, librarians and private citizens from all across Oklahoma.
The event keynote speaker will be Mike Walter, a five-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist who anchors the nightly CGTN-America News hour in Washington, D.C., and the host of its flagship weekly talk show, “The Heat.” He will speak on “Information in a Global Network.”
Awards will be presented that evening recognizing several Oklahomans who have shown a thirst for freedom of Information.
The inaugural Bickham-Hale Service Award is named after FOI Oklahoma founder Sue Hale and first executive director Kay Bickham. It will be awarded to the volunteer or board members who provides outstanding service to FOI Oklahoma.
The 2019 recipient is William Young, who marked 32 years with the Oklahoma Department of Libraries this year, and has served as the state agency’s public information manager since 1994. A former board member of FOI Oklahoma, he served 20 years on the First Amendment Congress planning committee.
The Marion Opala First Amendment Award is named for the late state Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala and recognizes individuals who have promoted education about or protection of the individual rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The 2019 honoree is Ryan Kiesel, who has led the ACLU of Oklahoma as Executive Director since 2011. During Ryan’s tenure, the ACLU-OK has secured landmark victories in state and federal courts, the state legislature and at the ballot box.
The Ben Blackstock Award is named for former Oklahoma Press Association Executive Director Ben Blackstock and recognizes a non-governmental person or organization that has shown a commitment to freedom of information. The 2019 honoree is Joe Wertz, a Senior Environment Reporter at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. His work includes leading coverage of his home state’s oil- and gas-linked earthquake surge and the state’s plodding regulatory response, Scott Pruitt’s rise and fall at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and national reporting on drilling, renewable energy, agriculture, pollution and climate change.
The Sunshine Award recognizes a public official or governmental body that has shown a commitment to freedom of information. The 2019 honoree is Judge Thad H. Balkman, a District Judge for the 21st Judicial District in central Oklahoma. He has had a distinguished legal career as a jurist, a private practice attorney and as an Oklahoma legislator. He most recently presided over the historic Opioid litigation in which a pharmaceutical giant, Johnson & Johnson, was held responsible for the first time in contributing to the opioid crisis, regarded by many as a landmark decision.
The final “award” is given to “an individual, agency or organization that has most thwarted the free flow of information.” The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents is the recipient of the 2019 Black Hole award.
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