Former Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott received the Frank O’Bannon Sunshine Award from the Hoosier State Press Association on Saturday during its annual Better Newspaper Contest in Greenwood.
Abbott was nominated by The Tribune for the award, which is presented to an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated outstanding efforts to protect and enhance the concepts of open government in Indiana. The award is named after the late Indiana governor who was an advocate of open records and meetings.
Steve Key, executive director of the association, read portions of The Tribune’s nomination letter, which detailed several examples where Abbott went above and beyond to be open with local media.
O’Bannon’s son, Jon, presented the award to the former chief, who served in that capacity for more than 11 of his 29 years of service to the Seymour Police Department. He retired from the department Friday.
Abbott said he was surprised to have been nominated and presented with the award.
In that past, state lawmakers, local officials, county sheriffs, former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and former Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller have received the award.
Abbott is the first person from Jackson County to be added to that list.
"I’m honored, but I’m not so sure I’m worthy of it," he said. "I didn’t sign up for this job for awards, but I’m thankful for being nominated and for receiving it."
Abbott said he gained trust in The Tribune early in his time as chief through reporter January Rutherford and former editor Dan Davis.
That trust was built upon throughout the years, and Abbott created an open door policy that included calls nearly every day with local media.
"Over the years, when someone from our local paper called me, I have no problem telling them what we’re doing here at the police department because the trust is there," he said. "It’s an unusual marriage, but in reality, we both serve a purpose for this community together. I talked to The Tribune as much as I talked with officers, detectives and others at the police department."
Abbott said updating media allowed him to get the word out about what the police department was doing and on incidents it investigated.
The department has a social media account, but Abbott said he preferred to release information to local media to communicate with the pubic about incidents.
"It’s always important to get information to the public so they can react to what has happened," he said. "I always just felt it was part of my job."