The Bickham-Hale Service Award will be given for the first time during this year’s FOI Oklahoma annual awards banquet the evening of Oct. 2. The deadline for ticket purchases will be Sept. 25.

The banquet will be at the University of Central Oklahoma. The keynote speaker will be Mike Walter, a five-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist who is the anchor on the nightly CGTN-America News hour in Washington and the host of its flagship weekly talk show, “The Heat.” He will speak on “Information in a Global Network.”

The awards given on Oct. 2 will be:

The Bickham-Hale Award is named after FOI Oklahoma founder Sue Hale and first executive director Kay Bickham. The 2019 honoree is William Young, who marked 32 years with the Oklahoma Department of Libraries this year, and has served as the state agency’s public information manager since 1994. A former board member of FOI Oklahoma, he served 20 years on the First Amendment Congress planning committee.

The Marion Opala First Amendment Award is named for the late state Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala and recognizes individuals who have promoted education about or protection of the individual rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The 2019 honoree is Ryan Kiesel, who has led the ACLU of Oklahoma as Executive Director since 2011. During Ryan’s tenure, the ACLU of Oklahoma has secured landmark victories in state and federal courts, the state legislature and at the ballot box.

The Ben Blackstock Award is named for former Oklahoma Press Association Executive Director Ben Blackstock and recognizes a non-governmental person or organization that has shown a commitment to freedom of information. The 2019 honoree is Joe Wertz, a Senior Environment Reporter at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. His work includes leading coverage of his home state’s oil- and gas-linked earthquake surge and the state’s plodding regulatory response, Scott Pruitt’s rise and fall at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and national reporting on drilling, renewable energy, agriculture, pollution and climate change.

The Sunshine Award recognizes a public official or governmental body that has shown a commitment to freedom of information. The 2019 honoree is Judge Thad H. Balkman, a District Judge for the 21st Judicial District in central Oklahoma.  He has had a distinguished legal career as a jurist, a private practice attorney and as an Oklahoma legislator. He most recently presided over the historic Opioid litigation in which a pharmaceutical giant was held responsible for the first time in contributing to the opioid crisis, regarded by many as a landmark decision.

The final “award” is given to “an individual, agency or organization that has most thwarted the free flow of information.” The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents is the recipient of the 2019 Black Hole award. 

Tickets can be purchased online at FOIOKLAHOMA.ORG.