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Cahn wins for FOIA column

Posted: March 19, 2018 4:17 p.m.
Updated: March 20, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Chronicle-Independent Senior Writer Martin L. Cahn brought home two awards from the S.C. Press Association (SCPA) annual meeting on Saturday in Spartanburg.

Cahn earned a first-place nod in the All Weekly Division for an Editorial or Column in Support of FOI/Open Government Issues. The award recognized his July 21, 2017, column “Executive sessions for ‘specific purpose,’” that informed readers and local office holders about a judge’s ruling in Desa Ballard vs. Newberry County regarding exactly how public bodies must motion to enter executive sessions.

Judges said the category was “difficult to judge as there were several good editorials on the Newberry ruling, but this one gave very clear, real life examples in plain English on the right way for bodies to properly explain and vote to go into executive session.”

In the column, Cahn explained that the Newberry ruling prohibits public bodies from motioning to go into executive session merely by citing the applicable portion of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or the categories for which the FOIA allows exemptions to enter executive sessions.

“Making sure the public knows that the FOIA and open government is for them is one of my missions,” Cahn said. “To me, this award means that my peers think I’m on the right track when it comes to ensuring public bodies don’t abuse executive session exemptions. I’ve written about it several times since then and will continue to bring it up as long as I see a problem.”

The SCPA also awarded Cahn third place in the All Weekly Division for Series of Articles: “Threatening letters,” which ran in two parts on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3, 2017.

The two-article series detailed the case of Jeffrey Aaron Betrand, a man who had managed to send a number of threatening letters to his ex-girlfriend from inside prison after pleading guilty to throwing a Molotov cocktail at her apartment in July 2013.

The first story focused on the investigation by then Camden Police Department Detective Penny Lloyd, while the second featured an interview with Alexis Gilmore, Betrand’s ex-girlfriend, who wanted to tell her story to inspire other women and girls to get out of abusive relationships.

“This was my first ‘big’ story after returning to the C-I last year,” Cahn noted. “This was their story, though, not mine. I just wrote it.”

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