Valley News reporter Carol Thompson received two awards for investigative reporting from the Syracuse Press Club Saturday evening.
Thompson took the first place award for her story “County Clerk vendor under investigation in Essex County.” The story examined the controversy surrounding a contract Essex County holds with the same vendor that has been shrouded in controversy in Oswego County.
Questions regarding the contract surfaced following a Freedom of Information request Thompson made to Essex County. The county responded with 483 e-mail messages that indicated a close personal relationship between an employee of the Essex County Clerk’s office and a representative of the vendor.
The messages were the subject of an investigation by the Franklin County District Attorney’s office, who turned his findings over to the New York State Attorney General.
The Essex County Board of Ethics is currently conducting hearings in the matter with the Warren County attorney replacing the Essex County attorney in the matter to avoid any conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety. The hearings are expected to conclude at the end of the month or early June, according to an Essex County official.
The judges commented that the story was not easy but done very well for the local readers, who need to be kept informed on county government.
“Keeping an eye on county government is very important to its residents,” the judges noted.
Thompson won the second place award for investigative reporting for her story “County to return five permits to City of Oswego.” The story focused on the misuse of parking permits that are issued to the 25 county legislators who receive them from the City of Oswego as a courtesy so they are not ticketed for parking in public spaces when meetings run more than two hours long.
Acting on a tip, it was discovered that some county employees and an employee of New York State Senator Patty Ritchie’s office were using unauthorized permits to park in public spaces during the work day.
The city had inadvertently issued five extra permits and instead of being returned, were issued to those not authorized to have them. Cars parked on the East Second Street side of the county office complex also had past year’s permits placed on their windshields and one car had what appeared to be a photocopy of a permit.
The city changes the color of the permits each year to prevent misuse and has never issued white permits.
This year’s judges were members of the media from Cleveland, Florida, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Diego and western Pennsylvania.
Each year the Syracuse Press Club honors the best journalism in a 21-county area of New York State.
Thompson has won dozens of awards for investigative reporting, feature writing and column writing. She was the 2006 recipient of the Syracuse Press Club’s Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award.