Malheur Enterprise honored for pursuit of state’s Montwheeler records

In an unusual move, a Washington state open government group has reached across the border into Oregon to recognize the Malheur Enterprise’s fight for state records.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government said the Key Award is for the Enterprise’s “tenacity and persistence in procuring public records” related to Anthony W. Montwheeler, a former state hospital patient now facing murder charges. The coalition announced the award Thursday in a news release.

“We are proud to receive this recognition,” said Les Zaitz, Enterprise editor and publisher. “The need is more profound than ever to hold government accountable and allow citizens access to government information.”

The Enterprise earlier this year sought records of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board after it released Montwheeler from state control last December. A month later, Montwheeler was accused of kidnapping and murdering one of his ex-wives and killing a Vale man and injuring his wife in a collision during a police pursuit.

The Security Review Board defied an order from Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s office to release documents about Montwheeler’s claims he faked his mental illness to avoid prison. The board instead took the rare step of suing the Enterprise to block the disclosure, but dropped the case under pressure from Gov. Kate Brown.

The Washington coalition, which promotes open government, issues the Key Award to those “who fight secrecy and work to make government open and transparent.” The coalition typically honors individuals and organizations in Washington state.

“Our board felt this case was so extraordinary because the newspaper was sued by a state agency for simply requesting information the public had a right to know,” said Juli Buntin of the coalition. “The board wanted to draw attention to this egregious case and honor the newspaper for standing up to secrecy.”

The coalition said it learned of the Enterprise’s battle with the state caught in a Seattle Times column by Danny Westneat. Westneat wrote about the state’s suit and the challenge of holding government accountable.

“The tiny weekly was sued by a state agency. Not because the paper did anything wrong, but because it’s pursuing public records in a horrific murder case of intense interest in the town,” Westneat wrote.

More information about the Washington Coalition for Open Government: Website