The N.C. Press Association’s annual Winter Institute offers an opportunity to salute the fine work of reporters, editors and photographers all over the state through an annual awards ceremony. But it also gives us a chance to salute North Carolinians who have gone to extraordinary lengths to defend access to open government through policies and practices in North Carolina.
The N.C. Press Association Lassiter Award is named after William C. Lassiter, a former attorney for the Press Association who spent much of his career fighting to keep government access open to all of us.
The Press Association doesn’t present a Lassiter Award every year – only when the association feels it is deserved.
With that qualifier in mind, it’s hard to imagine a recipient more deserving than this year’s winner, N.C. Rep Marilyn Avila, R-Wake.
Avila rallied support three times during the 2013 session of the N.C. General Assembly to fight legislation that would have allowed important public notices to be tucked away on local government websites. If the legislation had passed, notices about issues like the Sanderson Farms proposal and important zoning matters probably would not have appeared in the Classifieds section of the Rocky Mount Telegram.
Only frequent visitors to local government websites would have had a chance to discover such proposals.
Rep. Avila took on her own party to fight legislation that would have changed the law that now requires government entities to advertise their intentions through public notices in community newspapers. It would have been easy enough for her to capitulate to the whims of party leaders. Instead, she chose to stand up for the people of North Carolina.
The bestowment of the Lassiter Award on Rep. Avila is a well deserved honor.