AUSTIN – Odessa American publisher Patrick Canty, whose newspaper has waged a lengthy legal battle for access to local public records, will be honored with the prestigious James Madison Award.
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas bestows the award on those who demonstrate outstanding commitment to the principles of the First Amendment and open government. It will be presented at the foundation’s state conference Sept. 24.
Canty’s team of journalists has pressed the city of Odessa for nearly two years to provide public records, such as basic police information, in a timely manner as required by law. The newspaper’s pleas for a free flow of information led to the Odessa American filing a lawsuit against the city in early 2020 to seek the release of documents. The Odessa American alleges city officials violated the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) by delaying or redacting police reports and probable cause affidavits, documents that are considered to be public information. The city’s policies and practices, including stalling by unnecessarily submitting open records requests to the Texas attorney general for rulings, have resulted in the city unlawfully refusing to supply public information in accordance with the TPIA, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit is ongoing. A regional appellate court recently ruled the newspaper sufficiently put forth factual allegations to support its claims. The next court date is in November.
The FOI Foundation of Texas will present the James Madison Award to Canty during its state conference in Austin.
“I am humbled that the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and its board of directors would choose me for such a tremendous honor,” Canty said. “I am so fortunate and privileged to work with an editor, Laura Dennis, and a team who share my firm belief that ensuring open and transparent government is the cornerstone of what we as journalists do each and every day. It is one of those fundamental reasons why we exist in the first place.”
Canty also credited AIM Media Texas company leaders Chairman/CEO Jeremy Halbreich and President/COO Rick Starks, saying they believe “doing what is right by the communities we serve is so vital.”
Canty has served as publisher of the Odessa American since 2003. He is also a regional vice president for AIM Media Texas, LLC. He got his start in the news industry as a reporter and later Sunday editor at the San Antonio Light, his hometown newspaper. He later became editor of the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen; publisher of the Porterville Recorder in California; and director of training and special projects for community newspapers for Freedom Communications Inc.
“Patrick Canty and the Odessa American, in persisting with this lawsuit, are sending a strong message that government officials serve the people and that the public has the right to know how government is operating,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the FOI Foundation of Texas. “Public records belong to all of us and should be provided without delay.”
The James Madison Award has been presented since 1987 to attorneys, journalists, public officials and vigilant citizens. A list of past recipients can be found at https://foift.org/activities-programs/awards/james-madison-awards/. Canty praised the nonprofit FOI Foundation as “an indispensable resource and source of support in the fight for freedom of information in this state.” The foundation’s state conference Sept. 24 will explore the latest issues in the field of freedom of information. In addition to celebrating the James Madison Award recipient, the conference will honor Spirit of FOI Award winners and the State Bar of Texas Gavel Award winners. More information can be found at www.foift.org.