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SPJ honors the late Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon


Pledges to pursue Access Counselor legislation that O’Bannon spearheaded

Contact: Mac McKerral, SPJ President, 813-342-2472, mmckerral@bizjournals.com

Charles N. Davis, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chairperson, 573-882-5736, daviscn@missouri.edu

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indianapolis-based Society of Professional Journalists honored the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon by unanimously endorsing a resolution recognizing his visionary work in creating the office of Public Access Counselor, one of the few of its kind in the nation.

SPJ’s 23-member national board of directors unanimously approved the resolution during the society’s national convention Sept. 11-14 in Tampa, Fla.

“The death of Gov. O’Bannon means the loss of a friend for the Society, and it means many challenges for the state of Indiana,” said Mac McKerral, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and editor of The Tampa Bay Business Journal. McKerral also helped found the Greenwood (Ind.) Gazette in 1986.

“But it should not mean challenges for the residents of the state in the area of open government. For the state’s residents, Gov. O’Bannon was an important ally, because he created the Public Access Counselor’s office. The best way for the state to permanently honor Gov. O’Bannon is by making sure his legacy of advocacy for access to government information and records is protected-and increased.”

SPJ’s approved resolution seeks to pursue model legislation for all states to consider in creating a similar public access counselor office.

“Thanks to the efforts of Gov. O’Bannon and countless other access advocates, Indiana is one of a handful of states with a public access counselor,” said Charles Davis, FOI Committee Chair. “I cannot overstate the importance of this position which ensures that the people have a voice in access issues in Indiana.”

Since 1999, the Public Access Counselor’s office has reviewed 7,589 queries filed by the public, media and government officials. Of those, most complaints continue to cite problems with gaining access to public records generated by government.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


In Memory of Gov. Frank O’Bannon

Whereas an open government is essential to a free society so citizens can make informed decisions, and

Whereas in 1998, an unprecedented statewide collaboration of seven newspapers found Indiana residents suffered widespread obstacles in obtaining government information defined as public under Indiana law, and

Whereas, Gov. Frank O’Bannon provided a model in leadership to governors throughout the nation in creating the Public Access Counselor’s office in 1998 for residents to file grievances over public meetings and public records and seek relief, and

Whereas Gov. O’Bannon’s family is firmly rooted in the newspaper business in southern Indiana, providing this humble public servant a solid foundation in the First Amendment and the vital free flow of information, and

Whereas the governor worked with the Indiana Legislature to pass a law that made the public access counselor a permanent office within state government, and

Whereas, since 1999, the Public Access Counselor’s office has reviewed 7,589 queries filed by the public, media and government officials. Of those, most complaints continue to cite problems with gaining access to public records generated by government. County and state agencies continue to be the worst offenders when it comes to issues of public access, and

Whereas there are not enough elected or appointed public officials in the nation dedicated to an informed citizenry,

Be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists honors the work of Gov. O’Bannon and mourns the loss of a rare elected official who believed that the public’s right to know was critical to the workings of government.

Be it further
resolved that the Society recommends crafting model legislation for the nation’s governors to create similar public access offices in honor of the memory of Gov. O’Bannon.

(Unanimously approved by the National Board of Directors of the Society of Professional Journalists on Sept. 15, 2003, in Tampa, Fla.)

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