Franklin mayor given state award for government transparency

The mayor of Franklin has been honored statewide for his work to make information on crime and safety in the city more available to the public, and his overall efforts to run a transparent government.

Joe McGuinness was given the Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award by the Hoosier State Press Association during its annual conference last week. McGuinness was nominated to receive the award by the Daily Journal.

The award honors residents or organizations who make outstanding efforts to protect and enhance open government in Indiana, according to the press association.

The award is named after the late governor Frank O’Bannon, who advocated for open government and created the office of the Indiana public access counselor, said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association. O’Bannon understood that elected officials and government employees are serving the public, and the public has a right to information, Key said.

“We wanted to put together an award that honors people for doing things right,” Key said.

The honor is also given in the hopes of encouraging other elected officials and residents to operate transparent governments, Key said.

McGuinness joins a list of award winners since 2005 that includes state legislators, county and city elected officials from communities across the state, the Indiana Coalition for Open Government and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

Through the years, the winners have been selected because they made conducting an open government the hallmark of their work, or they took corrective action on an issue, Key said.

In the case of McGuinness, he’s done both.

The newspaper nominated McGuinness after he took action to make sure the public had more access to information about crime and safety through daily reports from the Franklin Police Department.

Reporters and editors went to the mayor for help after not being able to get basic information from the police department about serious crimes, such as a hit-and-run crash that severely injured three people or an investigation when Franklin Community High School was closed late last year due to multiple threats.

Moreover, the newspaper was concerned that it wasn’t able to tell residents about routine crimes that they needed to be aware of, such as a rash of car break-ins, recent vandalism or what police were doing to solve crimes.

After a joint meeting McGuinness and the newspaper arranged with the police department leaders, a new public information officer was named with experience in all areas of police work, who pays attention to detail to get reporters’ questions answered and who recognizes the value in telling the stories of police work while never compromising investigations or officers’ safety.

“We published information about the suspected vehicle in the hit-and-run case, and the suspect was arrested due to information from our readers. We’ve warned the public of scams and burglars ransacking unlocked cars,” Daily Journal editor Michele Holtkamp wrote in the nomination letter.

“McGuinness helped arrange the meeting with the police department, shared a vision of openness and then got out of the way,” the letter said.

The mayor’s action fits with how he has managed city government since he took office four years ago, the letter said. He does not call for closed-door meetings, and he shares his vision and listens to feedback. When readers and residents ask questions, they are answered without public records requests or put-offs.

“Joe clearly understands that giving the public and local media access to information is the right thing to do,” Daily Journal publisher Chuck Wells said. “His commitment to transparency only makes this community stronger.”

At a glance

Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award recipients

2005: Fulton County Sheriff Roy Calvert and David Boudia of Fremont, Indiana. Boudia served as president of the Steuben Lake Regional Waste District board of trustees

2006: Ferdinand town clerk-treasurer Bev Schulthise

2007: Mindy Waldron, administrator of the Fort Wayne-Allen Health Department, and Lawrenceburg clerk-treasurer Jackie Stutz

2008: State Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, and State Rep. Russ Stilwell, D-Boonville, authors of legislation closing the serial meetings loophole in the Open Door Law

2009: Indiana Coalition for Open Government

2010: State Rep. Cleo Duncan, R-Greensburg

2011: Deanna Durrett of Montgomery County League of Women Voters and Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis

2012: Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard

2013: Greg Zoeller, Indiana attorney general, and Jane Neulieb, Long Beach, Indiana, town council

2014: Switzerland County Sheriff Roy Leap and Hope Town Council member Tim Shoaf

2015: Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance and Gail Pebworth of the League of Women Voters of Indiana

2016: Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness and Porter County commissioners Jeff Good and Laura Shurr Blaney