HOPE — A former Hope Town Council member honored for his advocacy of open government probably lost some friends along the way as a result.
That opinion was shared Tuesday by several people who attended a ceremony where Tim Shoaf was presented with the Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award from the Hoosier State Press Association.
In fact, the nomination form stated that Shoaf, who served on the council between 1998 and 2014, had “drawn the wrath of the good-old-boy network” by insisting on government transparency.
“I always tell everybody I never had an enemy in Hope until I got on the town council,” said Shoaf, 56, a construction company owner. “But government officials work for taxpayers, so the public has a right to know.”
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The award acknowledges Indiana residents who advocate that Hoosiers have a right to know what government is proposing or doing, said HSPA Executive Director Steve Key, who made the presentation.
The nomination, written by the late Hope Star-Journal publisher Larry Simpson, specifically commended Shoaf for:
Pushing for a second monthly council work session, open to the public.
Working to give the press access to a former clerk-treasurer’s official emails.
Working to make sure that council members received public claims well in advance to enable public review.
Educating the council on the public’s right to record council meetings.
Helping create a citizen advisory council to review details of a contract between the town and its volunteer fire department.
Highlighting the need for meeting notices to be posted according to the law.
Shoaf admitted during the ceremony inside Hope’s Simpson Building — named for the late newspaper publisher — that he harbored some mixed feelings.
“I am truly honored,” Shoaf said. “But it’s a shame that somebody has to be honored for asking people to do what is right.”
While admitting his insistence on open government has ended his friendships with a few people in government, Shoaf said his efforts to keep government business transparent have been applauded by everyday Hope residents.
That doesn’t surprise Bud Herron, a former Hope resident who retired in 2007 as publisher of The Republic, a member of the HSPA.
“I don’t care if you are a far-right conservative or a left liberal, everyone can agree they want information and you have to hold elected officials accountable,” Herron said.
Exceptions to the Open Door Law allow elected officials to conduct private meetings to discuss specific items such as an employee’s medical records, certain other personnel matters or to develop strategies for acquiring real estate, for example, Key said.
Most government officials who attempt to keep other matters from the public sincerely believe they have legitimate reasons to do so, the HSPA director said.
Some are trying to avoid what they feel might be harmful or create controversy, while others have backgrounds that don’t give them significant experience with the state’s Open Door Law, Key said.
“It’s always a mixed bag when you have human beings involved,” Key said. “For newspapers, it’s a continuing process of approaching officials who ‘get it,’ those who will never get it and those you are constantly educating.”
Public business most often hidden by local and state government entities are mundane things rather than being criminal or sensational in nature, Herron said.
As one example, Shoaf cited reluctance by the Hope Volunteer Fire Department — a private, not-for-profit organization — to provide the town board with its complete finances prior to agreeing on a new contract.
The Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award is named in honor of the late Indiana governor who created a special state office designed to help educate and mediate issues concerning the state’s open door laws, Key said.
Hope town manager Melina Fox said she considered the state’s 47th governor, who died in office in 2003, a personal friend.
“If Frank were here, he’d not only say, ‘Good job, Tim,’ but he’d also thank you because it takes a lot of courage to do what you did,” Fox said. “Thank you for doing what’s right for the citizens of our community.”
Here is a recap of recipients of the Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award, presented annually by the Hoosier State Press Association.
2005: David Boudia, president of the Steuben Lake Regional Waste District board of trustees, and Fulton County Sheriff Roy Calvert.
2006: Ferdinand Clerk-Treasurer Bev Schulthise, in recognition of her consistent record of providing public documents to the press and public.
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 Rep. Russ Stilwell, D-Boonville.
2009: Indiana Coalition for Open Government.
2010: State Rep. Cleo Duncan of Greensburg.
2011: Deanna Durrett of the Montgomery County League of Women Voters and Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis.
2012: Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.
2013: Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Jane Neulieb, a member of the Long Beach (Indiana) Town Council.
2014: Switzerland County Sheriff Roy Leap and Hope Town Council member Tim Shoaf.