NATICK, Mass. — Reporter Dale Faulkner and The Westerly Sun on Thursday received a Publick Occurrences award from the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and Sun publisher Eliot White was honored with a Yankee Quill award, during the association’s fall convention here.
The Publick Occurrences award recognizes individual and team merit at New England newspapers. It was established in 1990 to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Publick Occurrences, the first newspaper published in America. Four days after it appeared in Boston in 1690, Publick Occurrences was suppressed by the royal governor.
The organization presents no more than 16 awards in this category to news organization of all sizes in an effort to recognize the best work that New England newspapers produce each year — whether individual or team stories, series, spot news coverage, columns or photojournalism.
Faulkner and The Sun won for a series of news stories and editorials exposing conflicts of interest involving leaders of the Westerly Zoning Board of Review and the Westerly Housing Authority. News editor Marleah Ross collaborated with Faulkner on the stories.
Faulkner pursued zoning board Chairman Robert Ritacco’s recusal from a meeting involving complaints lodged by neighbors of the Copar Quarry in the Bradford section of Westerly. Residents had complained for more than a year about quarry dust drifting onto their properties, creating what they said was a health hazard.
The neighbors also asserted that the quarry had been abandoned for years and that quarrying was taking place without proper permits. Faulkner’s reporting revealed that Ritacco failed to properly document his reasons for recusing himself from a long-awaited hearing on the residents’ complaints.
The quarry rents land from attorney George Comolli and his family. Comolli is the attorney for the Westerly Housing Authority, which was seeking a new executive director earlier this year. Ritacco applied for the position and Faulkner learned he was a finalist for the job. The housing authority board of directors tried to bar Faulkner from its meetings and board members refused to discuss the executive director search process.
Ritacco eventually indicated he had a business relationship with Comolli.
In its editorials, the newspaper was critical of Ritacco for failing to properly detail his reasons for recusal and of the housing board for the secretive nature of its meetings. On the eve of the housing authority’s vote to select a new director, the newspaper called for a delay in the decision and for Ritacco to withdraw his name from the pool of candidates.
The vote was delayed and Ritacco withdrew his name from consideration.
White was one of four New England journalists to receive a Yankee Quill, considered the highest individual honor awarded by fellow journalists in the region.
White is the fourth-generation CEO of the family-owned newspaper company that publishes the Record-Journal of Meriden, Conn., in addition to The Sun, several weekly newspapers affiliated with both dailies, and a chain of tourism magazines in Orlando, Fla. The Record-Journal also was honored Thursday, earning a Distinguished Newspaper of the Year award for papers in its circulation category.
White was selected for the award based on his commitment to local and watchdog journalism, his support of open government initiatives, including Connecticut’s Freedom of Information laws, and his efforts in providing internships to minority newspapermen and women, according to the board of trustees of the Academy of New Enqland Journalists, which makes the selections.
White’s father, Carter H. White, was presented the Yankee Quill in 1990. Eliot White has held leadership positions with the New England Newspaper Association and the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association and numerous local organizations.
Other Yankee Quill recipients for 2013 are Christine Chinlund, managing editor of The Boston Globe; the late Peter Lord, long-time environmental reporter and editor at the Providence Journal; and James Rousmaniere, recently retired editor and president of the Keene (N.H.) Sentinel. A Yankee Quill also was awarded posthumously to John Greenleaf Whittier, the 19th-century poet and writer from Massachusetts, who helped lead the abolitionist movement in the North while working as a reporter.