Heroes of the 50 States:
The State Government Hall of Fame

Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint venture by the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. It was developed by leaders in both organizations as a way to recognize long-term contributions of individuals to open government in their respective states.

The Open Government Hall of Fame is open to anyone who has made a substantial, sustained and lasting contribution to open government or freedom of information within one particular state. Even if the nominee has been active in national efforts or national organizations, the judges will only consider accomplishments at the state level.

Nominees may come from government, the media, the non-profit sector, the legal profession, or any other area of endeavor that involves citizen access to government records, meetings and procedures. Nominees may be living or dead, active or retired.

2013 Recipient - Brian Sonntag
Essay Contest Winner Diane Manwell,
2013 FOI Hero Award winner Brian Sonntag (right) 
with Hyde Post, President of the NFOIC board 
and of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation

Brian Sonntag, who retired earlier this year after serving five terms as the elected State Auditor in Washington state, has been selected for induction into Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.

Brian Sonntag accepting his Hall of Fame induction

The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) jointly announced Sonntag’s selection as the 2013 inductee today. The formal induction ceremony will take place at Saturday’s luncheon during the 2013 FOI Summit, held this year at the Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans, La., May 17–18.

Sonntag, the 13th individual chosen for the honor since the Hall’s inception in 2003, is the second inductee in a row from Washington and only the third elected official to be included.

Sonntag served as County Clerk and County Auditor in Pierce County (Tacoma), Washington, before first winning statewide election as State Auditor in 1992. He was also a founding board member of Washington Coalition for Open Government. Included among recommendations in Sonntag’s final report to the public as State Auditor were suggestions to modernize and centralize the state’s financial management, record all executive sessions and establish a mediation process to resolve public records disputes. He also criticized local governments’ attempts to persuade legislators to limit access to public records. “Public officials must remember whose government it is. It is never wrong to open the doors and let the people in,” Sonntag’s final auditor report stated.


2012 - Toby Nixon

Toby Nixon, president of Washington Coalition for Open Government(WCOG) and a city council member in Kirkland, Washington, was selected for induction into Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame for 2012. NFOIC and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced Nixon's selection jointly on April 6, 2012. The formal induction ceremony took place on Saturday, May 12, at a luncheon during the 2012 FOI Summit at the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor's Club in Madison, Wisconsin, hosted by NFOIC and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Toby Nixon is a member of the Kirkland city council. He previously served as a fire commissioner and in the Washington State House of Representatives from 2002 through 2006, where he was ranking member of the committee which has responsibility for overseeing Washington's open government and election laws. He received the "Freedom's Light Award" from Washington Newspaper Publishers Association in recognition of his work to protect and advance First Amendment interests in Washington. Toby has worked in the computer industry for over 35 years, currently in the Windows group at Microsoft where he manages relationships with other companies in the computer industry and represents Microsoft in technical standards development organizations. He’s a member of the Washington State Historical Records Advisory Board, and serves as an officer and board member of a number of local non-profit organizations. He, his wife Irene, and their family make their home in Kirkland.

To view award presentation and hear Toby Nixon's comments, see video below.

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Sunshine Week "Local Heroes" Award

Across America, people are making a difference in their communities by fighting for greater government transparency. To recognize these “Local Heroes,” the American Society of News Editors presents annual awards during Sunshine Week to individuals who have played a significant role in fighting for transparency in government.


2012 - Eric Rachner
Second-Place Award Winner

Seattle citizen Eric Rachner has waged a three-year effort to hold the Seattle Police Department accountable for how it uses dashboard-camera recordings of street arrests.

In September 2010, WCOG honored Rachner for his investigation into the SPD’s policies and procedures involving thousands of video recordings. Rachner revealed a troubling pattern that showed the department tends to use the recordings to exonerate officers involved in internal investigations ‐‐ and deny access to suspects and others.

Rachner had been arrested by SPD in 2008 and charged with obstructing an officer for refusing to give his name when police investigated a minor incident in a Seattle neighborhood. Although charges against him were later dropped, Rachner was intrigued by the use of video recordings by police and found that they aren't routinely destroyed as SPD officials claimed.  

He subsequently won a $60,000 judgment from the department for improperly withholding logs of patrol-car dashboard cameras. The Seattle Times reported that he has used much of the $60,000 judgment against the SPD in a three-year legal fight with the department.

In 2011, Rachner increased his efforts to hold SPD accountable. In August 2011, The Seattle Times reported SPD launched an investigation into inconsistent use of patrol-car dashboard cameras. The Times’ story cited Rachner’s allegations as motivating factors in the investigations.

Eric Rachner is the epitome of a Sunshine Week Local Hero. His persistence in obtaining and analyzing police records has enabled news organizations to publish stories they might not otherwise have uncovered. He has created online tools to enable other citizens to scrutinize police conduct. His investigations have prompted city officials to make reforms in police policies and procedures.



2011 - Gloria Howell
Place Award Winner

Motivated by a deeply-held personal belief that the difference between "right" and "wrong" really matters, former Stevenson school board member Gloria Howell used Washington State's Public Records statute and the Washington Courts to force the disclosure of public records that revealed major corruption in the Skamania County Auditor's Office (including the squandering and unlawful use of public funds by the County Auditor, and the illegal destruction of public records within the County Auditor's Office), which resulted in a criminal investigation by the Skamania County Sheriff's Office, a criminal referral to the Washington State Attorney General, an investigation and report by the Washington State Auditor, and the resignation of Skamania County Auditor Michael J. Garvison.



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