N.C. journalist honored for her commitment to openness in government

Sandy Semans was named the Open Government Heroine of 2010 during Sunshine Day. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell.

The managing editor of the Outer Banks Sentinel was honored at the beginning of Sunshine Day on March 16 as the Open Government Heroine for 2010 because of her work exposing corruption in government. She was recognized early during Sunshine Day on March 16 at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, N.C.

Journalist and editor Sandy Semans, who has been involved in journalism since the 1980s, helped oust at least 12 public officials.

“She fights the good fight, and not only (that) but she wins the good fight,” said Hugh Stevens, the president of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition.

Semans said she never expected to be rewarded for her work because she said she always believed her job was to be a government watchdog.

“I feel kind of awkward,” she said. “It’s kind of like saying prayers before bed. It’s something you grow up doing. Becomes a part of your character, part of your personality.”

Semans said North Carolina needs to get an open government bill passed so that all citizens are ensured that the government is being held accountable.

“We can’t just look relevant, we have to be relevant,” she said.
Semans specifically referred to personnel laws in the state that are currently exempt from public records laws. She said locked personnel files help keep criminal behavior hidden.

She referred to a story she covered that involved an individual who hopped around from one governmental agency to another. Semans said she and several other reporters had information and sources that proved the person was a child predator, but when Semans and the other journalists requested the individual’s personnel records from the agencies, they were told they couldn’t view them because state law forbid it.

Semans said she wants the state to convene a panel to study the position of local government and agencies handle records requests.

“Attorneys (who are involved in local government) come from real estate backgrounds,” she said. “Their (object) is to win. It is not for the people.”

But in the end, Semans stressed the importance of citizens’ responsibility in keeping their government accountable.

“My mother said, ‘I love this country,’” Semans said. “‘This country we create it every single day in what we do and don’t do. We have a moral responsibility to make right when (the government is) not doing something right.’”

Semans encouraged people to go back to their communities and “educate, empower, inspire and even (add) insight.

“Take this as a call to arms,” she said. “All parents need to participate.”

by Marlena Chertock, ’13