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Sentinel editor awarded 'Sledgehammer' for reporting

TucsonSentinel.com Editor Dylan Smith was named a winner of the "Sledgehammer Award" by the Arizona Press Club for his work pushing government officials to release information. Daily Star reporter Caitlin Schmidt was also recognized. The Department of Juvenile Corrections and Maricopa County Treasurer were recognized with "Brick Wall Awards" for hiding information.

The Press Club's Sledgehammer Awards are a tribute to journalists who relentlessly seek the truth, smashing through obstacles thrown their way.

Smith let the sunshine into a number of dark corners of local and national news in 2017.

He was the only journalist in the nation to report a hidden provision in a bill that would have exempted the Border Patrol from Freedom of Information laws. Because of his reporting and commentary, that provision was quickly removed, keeping Congress from allowing the Border Patrol to operate in the dark.

In other reporting, Smith broke the news that political committees were not filing mandatory disclosures of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and expenses leading up to the Tucson city election — and the city was letting them get away with it. Because of his reporting, updated filings prior to the election showed the campaign donors behind efforts to change Tucson's City Charter — and one of those initiatives was soundly defeated by the voters.

Smith also shed light on a personnel complaint against U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva that led to a staffer getting fired and then getting a $48,000 payout; and an apparent open-meeting law violation by the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board that led to the immediate withdrawal of a superintendent candidate the night before her contract was set to be approved.

Schmidt digs into UA secrets

Arizona Daily Star reporter Caitlin Schmidt used her knowledge of Title IX, public records requests, deep sourcing and national experts to expose how the University of Arizona put female students at risk because athletes went unchecked. Her reporting on numerous federal Title IX lawsuits filed against the UA paint a picture of campus-wide dysfunction.

Schmidt’s relentless pursuit of the truth included writing a story about how the UA was in violation of public-records laws when it didn’t release Title IX training materials she’d requested. Officials changed their minds.

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She also used her public records superpowers to inform the public about notices of claim that detailed sexual harassment and hostile workplace accusations against football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was fired.

Brick Walls and the stone cold truth

The Press Club's annual Brick Wall Award "honors" officials and government agencies that do their utmost to ignore public records requests and open meeting laws, hide or destroy public documents and place themselves above the public's constitutional right to know about their government.

One award is going to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections and Director Jeff Hood.

Hood and his agency have repeatedly refused to release a public record that could shed light on conditions for children held by the state, particularly with regard to mental health services. He has also refused or ignored repeated requests for an interview about conditions at ADJC, as well as requests for a tour of the facilities.

The Arizona Press Club called on the ADJC to stop hiding a report on mental health conditions from the public and to release it to the journalists from the Phoenix New Times who requested it.

Another award is going to Maricopa County Treasurer Royce Flora.

Flora, who oversees more than $11 billion in taxpayer money and is responsible for millions of tax bills, has repeatedly refused interview requests from journalists.

He won't talk about his campaign platform. He won't talk about errors on property records. He won't talk about rising tax bills. He won't talk about a new $35 million computer system. He won't even talk about his own promise to increase investment returns by 300 percent.

The Arizona Press Club called on Flora to stop blocking the public's constitutional right to know and to grant interviews to journalists from the Arizona Republic and other media.

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courtesy Laura Enriquez