Once again Alabama is proving itself to be one of the country’s most backwards states when it comes to open records law. Within the past couple of weeks two media outlets in Bama have had to fight to get information that is rightfully the people’s.

For al.com that issue came to the fore when a reporter attempted to photograph two inmate healthcare contracts for the Alabama Department of Corrections that totaled 53 pages. Prison officials decided they wouldn’t allow that, instead saying the reporter needed to pay for copies.

Under state law the amount being paid for copies of public records is supposed to represent actual cost for paper and employee time. In other words agencies aren’t supposed to make money off public records. So then the question becomes what’s the problem with just taking photos of them?

Typically what we’re dealing with is just an effort to make things harder for the media outlets and to hope they’ll either go away or put less effort into getting records they have to pay for. Lagniappe dealt with this a few years ago when Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Marilyn Wood tried to charge us $1,800 for three pages worth of information.

In the prison records situation it was less than $30 to get the records, but the principle is still the issue. There is even an AG’s opinion that supports allowing photos to be taken of public records without charge.

More egregiously, the Montgomery Advertiser actually had to fight against prior restraint in order to publish records about the Alabama Gas Company’s gas line public safety. The documents for the story were obtained in June through a public request to the Public Service Commission, but a judge in Jefferson County District Court actually agreed to a temporary injunction keeping the Advertiser from printing the story.

Algasco filed suit to stop the story on several grounds, including fear of terrorist attack. And the paper has been held in limbo on the story for two weeks. The judge lifted the injunction Tuesday morning, but the real question is why would an injunction ever have been granted in the first place?

Sealls a fellow

He routinely wins Nappie awards from Lagniappe readers, but now WKRG’s Chief Meteorologist Alan Sealls has won some accolades from his peers.

Sealls was recently selected as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. This professional high honor is for “outstanding contributions to the atmospheric or related oceanic or hydrologic sciences or their applications during a substantial period of years.”

Apparently it’s a pretty exclusive club to join as only two-tenths of 1 percent of all AMS members are selected as fellows each year.

“Colleagues were talking behind my back, and saying good things, and I didn’t even know it! Now, I feel my age,” Sealls said. “The list of past and current fellows are some well-respected and renown researchers, forecasters, authors, professors, modelers, and other meteorologists who are like rock stars in the weather world.”

Sealls came to Mobile from Chicago where, among other things, he worked as a meteorologist at WGN-TV for five years and was a meteorology professor at Columbia College. He has written and produced weather programs for WKRG-TV as well as more than two dozen videos for school. Those are distributed throughout the country by Discovery Education.

Sealls also teaches weather broadcasting at the University of South Alabama each spring.

“It was the biggest surprise of my career. Everything else that I’ve ‘won’ has always been something that I knew was possible, like the Nappies. This truly came out of the blue. It is surreal to be in the same company of names like Ted Fujita (tornadoes), Bob Simpson (Saffir-Simpson scale), and Neil Frank and Bob Sheets (National Hurricane Center),” Sealls said.

Sealls has been “Best Weather Anchor” twice for the Alabama Associated Press Broadcasters Association and he’s a three-time Emmy winner. In 2009 he won a national award from the American Meteorological Society in 2009 for a series on climate change. More recently, he won the best weathercaster in the state from the Alabama Broadcaster’s Association.

WALA changes

If you’ve noticed Chasity Byrd more often in the mornings on Fox10, it’s not just because she likes to get up early.

Byrd has joined the station’s “Studio 10” morning show as a host and doing weather.

Also reporter Letisha Bush’s last day at Fox10 was Tuesday as she has taken a job with CBS47/FOX30 in Jacksonville, Florida.