Four New Mexicans have been selected by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) to receive the organization’s top honor for open government – the Dixon First Amendment Award.
The recipients and the categories for which they were selected are: Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce president Terri Cole, Business; The New Mexican reporter Steve Terrell, Journalism; Northern New Mexico College instructor Annette Marie Rodriguez, Education; and Albuquerque resident Norm Gaume, Citizen.
They will be honored at FOG’s annual “Your Right To Know Luncheon,” set for Oct. 5 at the Embassy Suites in Albuquerque.
The annual awards, presented since 2002 in memory of FOG co-founder and longtime board member William S. Dixon, recognize individuals who, like Dixon, are advocates for the First Amendment and the state’s sunshine laws.
“Transparency is more than a slogan, but an ongoing commitment to open the doors of government,” said Gregory Williams, FOG president. “When you’re in it for the long haul, you’d better have a sharp intellect and a great sense of humor. Bill Dixon had both. We celebrate his memory, and celebrate these Dixon winners who continue to shine a light on public business in new and innovative ways.”
Those being honored are:
- Terri Cole, president/CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, who was one of the first members of the New Mexico business community to make the link between government transparency and a strong business climate. Cole served on the FOG board of directors for many years and, during her tenure, was president of the organization for three years.
- Steve Terrell, a reporter for the The Santa Fe New Mexican for over 29 years, who has long been an advocate for open government, always demanding transparency from public servants and government entities, according to FOG. In 2015, he successfully overturned a government order that would have prevented the publication of information legally obtained from a public records request.
- Annette Marie Rodriguez, an instructor at Northern New Mexico College in Española and at Santa Fe Community College, who used both the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) to shine a light on mismanagement at Northern New Mexico College. Her efforts eventually led to the resignation or removal of four of the five top administrators at the college.
Norm Gaume, a resident of Albuquerque, who is a citizen activist who FOG says has been relentless over the past two years in using IPRA and OMA to highlight controversial decisions by the government to divert the Gila River. Gaume continues to insist that public officials discuss the issue in front of the public and even sued to open up subcommittee meetings of the Interstate Stream Commission.
“These individuals recognize that secrecy is inconsistent with democratic ideals and, with access to information, citizens can hold their public officials accountable,” Williams added.
“The Dixon Awards selection process is very confidential, but I can tell you that we probably had a record number of nominations this year,” said Susan Boe, executive director of NMFOG. “The nominating committee had a very difficult job because so many New Mexicans are doing great work in regard to transparency. What was particularly interesting this year was the number of nominees we had in the citizen category; it was much higher than previous years.”
This year’s speaker at the Dixon Award ceremony will be Columbia University professor Ann Cooper. As a foreign correspondent with National Public Radio, she was an eyewitness to the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. Upon her return to the United States, Cooper served as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. It is headquartered in New York City.