Mercury reporter wins government transparency award

Michelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mercury reporter Mechelle Hankerson won a first place award from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government this week for her coverage of the Library of Virginia’s struggles to catalog and make public records of former governors.

The library is still in the process of archiving the records of Gov. Tim Kaine, who left office in 2010, Hankerson wrote:

The Library of Virginia has slowly processed electronic gubernatorial records with reduced state money for eight years. The library is primarily funded by the state, but the agency has lost more than 60 positions in the last decade because of decreases in funding, Librarian of Virginia Sandra Treadway said. The Library of Virginia currently gets $6.4 million a year from the state and operates a foundation to collect and manage donations

Lawmakers have put pressure on the library to work faster, but have shied away from giving the library funding it would need to do so. It’s not required for the Library of Virginia to process and post searchable gubernatorial records online; just to catalog and make them available to the public when the administration leaves office, which doesn’t necessarily mean any sort of searchable database.

The judge of the annual contest wrote of Hankerson’s story: “A nice job of covering the Library of Virginia’s seemingly impossible task of processing the backlog of records from past governors’ administrations so they can be released to the public. The in-depth analysis by Hankerson demonstrates the all-too-common contradictions among the promises politicians make in public with the onus of actually providing funding and following up on them.”

The Coalition for Open Government is a nonprofit alliance “formed to promote expanded access to government records, meetings and other proceedings at the state and local level.”

Other first place winners this year were:

  • Broadcast Television Stations, WDBJ7, Tim Saunders.
  • Daily Newspapers, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Patrick Wilson.
  • Non-Daily Newspapers, Rappahannock News, John McCaslin.