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News & Observer journalist wins Sunshine Award for coverage of budget transparency

The North Carolina Open Government Coalition awarded a Sunshine Award for Journalism to News & Observer reporter Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan for a series of stories tracking budget negotiations among Republican members of the North Carolina General Assembly and Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s administration.

The Sunshine Award recognizes Vaughan’s diligent efforts to peel back the curtain into the 2021 state budget process that hit stalemate after stalemate months past budget deadlines. After months of offers and counteroffers in a budget process that sets salaries for tens of thousands of public employees and tax policy that affects millions of North Carolinians, Vaughan used the public records law to get concrete information that took readers inside the negotiations. She filed that story from W. Jones St. in Raleigh while sitting outside General Assembly.

Following breaking news of the budget agreement, Vaughan published a story that gave readers a behind-the-scenes look into the deal.

“The state budget drama dragged out publicly for years, and as it finally neared the finish line, the powers that be wanted to keep negotiations secret,” Vaughan said. “That’s not good enough, and public records were key to shining a light on what our elected officials were up to. I’m so appreciative of this Sunshine Award.” Vaughan’s reporting highlights ways the North Carolina public records laws can work to the direct advantage of citizens of North Carolina. During feverish budget negotiations, Vaughan requested and received public records of communications between party leaders that revealed how the budget took shape. But her reporting also demonstrates how the public records process is often the only method of achieving a full understanding of consequential policy, usually after deals are reached.

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