The Courier has won the Alabama Press Association’s prestigious Freedom of Information - First Amendment Award for its reporting on the city of Fairhope.
Managing Editor Cliff McCollum won the award for his stories detailing a series of invoices and communications from Elias Technologies, a contractor hired by the City of Fairhope to improve the Fairhope Police Department.
Instant messages and other documents released by Elias Technologies to the Fairhope City Council and obtained by The Courier showed Mayor Karin Wilson was directly involved in using the company’s contract to investigate equipment belonging to former city employees Sherry Sullivan and Jennifer Fidler.
While Wilson had previously denied much direct involvement with the company regarding the investigation, the instant messages show months of communication between Wilson and Elias Technologies employee Dan Dollarhide.
In the messages and emails, Wilson asks for the searches on Fidler and Sullivan’s equipment, as well as searches into Council President Jack Burrell’s personal email, searches on communications involving Burrell and former Mayor Tim Kant, searches into a private citizen’s IP address, a request to sweep several city offices for surveillance equipment and repeated acknowledgement that her requests were outside the scope of work for the contract with Elias.
McCollum said he was humbled by the award for his reporting.
“These stories, like all of the stories we work on across our newspapers, were the result of hard work, research and the continued pursuit of the truth,” McCollum said. “While it’s certainly nice to be recognized for our reporting on this in the form of this award, we do what we do for our readers, to make sure they have the news and information they need to make good decisions and have informed opinions.”
This is the second time in his career McCollum has won the Freedom of Information - First Amendment Award, having previously won the award in 2016 for his reporting in Elberta with The Onlooker.
The Freedom of Information - First Amendment Award is the latest of seven other awards won by the Gulf Coast Media family of newspapers this year.
For the third year in a row, The Baldwin Times won first place in the Best Editorial category. This year’s entry, “What will you decide to do?”, was the result of a year of reporting on political happenings in Fairhope and asked the residents what actions they were going to take based on the stories.
Islander Editor Crystal Cole won first place in the Best Spot News category for her coverage of the Gulf Shores Mardi Gras Parade accident, her second first place win of her career.
Features Editor Allison Marlow won second place in the Best News Photo category for her “Walk to School Day” photo printed in The Courier.
McCollum won four other first place awards this year, including two wins in categories he won last year - Best News Feature Story and Best Humorous Column.
McCollum won first place in Best News Feature Story this year for his coverage of former Elberta Police Chief Stan DeVane’s horseback riding accident that cut short his career. He won Best Humorous Column for his “Call center crazies” column about odd calls in to 911 centers.
McCollum also won first place in two categories in which he had previously won awards.
He won Best Editorial Column or Commentary for “Alabama can be better,” written about Alabama’s recent Senate race; he previously won that category in 2013.
He also won for Best In-Depth News Coverage for his series of stories on the alleged assault on Fairhope’s former HR director by Wilson. McCollum previously won the category in 2016.