The SUN receives Service to the First Award

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Photo courtesy Thomas Cooper/Lightbox Images Photography
The Pagosa Springs SUN staff receive the Service to the First Award during Governor’s Luncheon at the Colorado Press Association convention last Friday in Colorado Springs. Pictured, left to right are, SUN Reporter Avery Martinez, SUN Editor Terri House, Gov. John Hickenlooper, SUN Assistant Editor Randi Pierce and SUN Reporter Chris Mannara. Not pictured from the SUN’s reporting team is Marshall Dunham.

Gov. John Hickenlooper presented the Colorado Press Association’s (CPA) 2017 Service to the First Award to The Pagosa Springs SUN staff Friday.
The presentation was made in front of nearly 400 journalists at the association’s annual convention held in Colorado Springs.
“This year’s winner shows you don’t have to be a big organization to make an impact or have a large newsroom to keep the government accountable and residents informed,” Hickenlooper said.
The judge of the contest commented, “This is a community newspaper that is doing it right. In a blog written by the CFOIC executive director, he said the paper has: Diligence, knowledge of the law and a devotion to watchdog journalism. Three necessary ingredients to keep government officials accountable and the public informed.”
According to the CPA website, the Friend of the First honor is annually one of the CPA’s most contested awards, and goes to a newspaper media organization that focuses on the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press, including, but not limited to, fighting the threat of censorship in America, overcoming uneasiness with regard to press credibility, combating government secrecy at all levels, and instilling in the public an appreciation of its need as well as its right to know.
“In the past year, the newspaper has uncovered questionable actions of a local board, including calling out inaccurate or misleading representations in district court filings, reporting on inappropriate board member appointments, and noting bylaw changes that were never officially adopted,” Hickenlooper said.
He continued, “They have uncovered illegal meetings held via email, as well as host of executive session problems, including illegal meetings being conducted, decisions being made in secret session, and failure to make audio recordings of meeting.
“Their reporting has helped inform the community of questionable, ethical and potentially illegal activity which impacted a mill-levy vote and how the entity operated.
“And that’s all from just one government body — a water conservancy district.”
Hickenlooper continued, “In other coverage, they have exposed a school district holding meetings outside of meetings. They ensured a charter school’s budget was properly approved with a second vote as the hearing had not been [noticed]. They reported improper meetings by the Historic Preservation Board as well the homeowners association board, both of which were conducting meetings via email. The publication informed its readers on improper hiring process of a school director and they were able to get the recordings of a fire board executive session released, which prompted the fire board members to thank the paper for bringing the procedural error to their attention.
“In another case, they got another executive session recording for a charter school. The paper questioned how a closed-door meeting could have been called for legal advice when no attorney was present. And why was the owner of the charter school building allowed to participate? Because the board and the building owner discussed a possible $4.7 million deal.
“After publishing the story about the charter school holding an illegal executive session and posting the audio of the executive session online, residents and groups came forward refuting statements made in that session. The paper printed more stories about those misrepresentations and an editorial. Other groups have thanked the paper for exposing the misrepresentations.
“With its staff of three reporters, Pagosa Springs SUN staff have held government of all kinds and sizes accountable for conducting public business where it belongs — in public. And while it’s my honor to give The SUN this award, the real winner of this award is the community and residents that Pagosa Springs’ newspaper covers.
“I present to you the winner of the Colorado Press Association’s 2017 Service to the First Award, The Pagosa Springs SUN.”
After presenting the award and posing for photos with SUN staff, he continued his speech, saying, “There has never been a greater need than now for what you do.”
CPA’s CEO Jerry Raehal said, “The Pagosa Springs SUN is one of the premier watchdog journalism publications in the state, not just this year, but every year. They are a paper we encourage other members to emulate.”