Cooper, Mayfield, Colbert to receive First Amendment award

 The Iowa Freedom of Information Council this week announced the 2019 recipients of its Friend of the First Amendment Award, which is given each year in memory of longtime Iowa Press Association and Iowa Daily Press Association journalist Harrison “Skip” Weber.

This year’s recipients are the mother of a police shooting victim and two Iowa newspaper editors. They will be honored on Sept. 26 during a dinner in Des Moines.

The recipients are:

Brian Cooper, the longtime editor of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, through the years has been one of Iowa’s leading voices on the important role public access to government records and meetings plays in our democracy and in ensuring government accountability. Cooper is a past president of the Iowa FOI Council and is a longtime member of the government relations committee of the Iowa Newspaper Association. He also has been the Iowa Supreme Court’s designated coordinator for cameras in northeast Iowa courtrooms for many years. Cooper is retiring in November after 33 years with the Telegraph Herald, including 30 years as its executive editor.

Trevis Mayfield, the editor/publisher of the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press since 2014, has shown that important public accountability reporting can be done effectively even with a small news staff. Mayfield and his staff pressed government officials for answers after a local prosecutor was let off with a misdemeanor ticket after she and her boyfriend were drinking alcohol while she drove. Public questions arose when it became known that a law officer had driven the prosecutor back to Maquoketa because of her inebriated condition.  Adding to the questions were the decisions by officials in Clinton and Jackson counties and in Maquoketa to withhold body camera and dash camera videos of the incident. Mayfield’s strong columns and editorials focused on the importance of government officials making the videos public to put to rest questions about whether the prosecutor received preferential treatment because she works closely with law officers.

Gina Colbert, a resident of Columbus, Ga., has become a passionate and articulate voice for public accountability following the shooting death of her daughter in 2015 by a Burlington police officer. Autumn Steele, then 34, was fatally wounded after Officer Jesse Hill was dispatched to the Steele home to investigate an argument between Steele and her husband, Gabriel. The officer drew his service weapon and fired two shots when the Steeles’ dog went toward him. The officer slipped on the snowy ground as he drew the gun, and Autumn Steele was struck in the torso by one of his bullets. Colbert pressed for public release of the video from the body camera worn by Hill. She has said the public deserved to know how one of its officers needlessly jeopardized the safety of the young family by carelessly firing his gun with people so close. 

The three will be recognized during the Sept. 26 awards dinner at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Des Moines. The event is open to the public and begins at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets are $60 each and can be purchased at:

Proceeds from the dinner benefit the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, a nonprofit organization that mentors college journalists in investigative and explanatory reporting.The featured speaker at the dinner will be a transplanted Iowan, Jenna Johnson, a White House reporter for the Washington Post. Her parents own and publish the Kalona News.

The Iowa FOI Council’s Friend of the First Amendment Award has been presented annually since 2001.