Greg Smith, Malheur County’s economic development director, speaking to county commissioners last December. (The Enterprise/file)

An investigation into state Rep. Greg Smith’s public and private ventures won honors for journalistic excellence for the Malheur Enterprise in results announced Monday night.

“Public money, private empire” won first place in politics and government reporting and was the runner up for investigative reporting in regional competition in the West.

The report, published in June 2019, traced how Smith, a Republican legislator from Heppner, holds two full-time jobs while also serving in the Legislature and as director of the Malheur County Economic Development Department. The investigation tracked the public contracts Smith holds through his company, Gregory Smith and Company.

The three-month investigation was conducted by reporters Pat Caldwell and Kristine de Leon and editor Les Zaitz. De Leon is now a reporter with the Montana Standard, a daily newspaper in Butte, Montana.

The awards came in regional competition conducted by SPJ, a national journalism organization, that drew 1,300 entries. The Enterprise competed against small newsrooms in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

“Though we’re small, we take our duty to the community seriously,” said Zaitz, who also is publisher of the Enterprise. “We know readers count on us to hold public officials accountable, to show how public money is used, and to not be deterred by power or intimidation.”

Smith, whose company is paid $180,000 a year by Malheur County, later accused the newspaper of criminal conduct, triggering a request to Sheriff Brian Wolfe that he investigate. The sheriff concluded there was no evidence of a crime.

Smith’s effort attracted national attention, including the Washington Post, which reported independently on Smith’s effort.

The Enterprise, based in Vale and founded in 1909, was acquired by Zaitz and his family in 2015.

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