Calico Rock votes down recordings of meetings

CALICO ROCK, AR (AP) - The Calico Rock city council has voted down a measure that would have allowed video recordings at its council meetings.

The decision comes after an Arkansas attorney general's opinion found that such recordings are permissible under the state Freedom of Information Act if it's not disruptive to the meeting.
The Baxter Bulletin reports the council voted 3-3 on the issue.
The measure needed five votes to pass. The White River Current newspaper recorded several meetings in 2011 and put them on YouTube.
In January, the council enacted a ban on video recordings.
Co-publisher Charles Francis says he will continue to pursue the issue and he hopes it can be resolved without a lawsuit.
Information from: The Baxter Bulletin,
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

CALICO ROCK, AR (KAIT) - In January,  the Calico Rock city council voted to not allow video recordings of council meetings.   Below is the Opinion of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in response to a query by State Senator  Missy Thomas Irvin on behalf of the paper.

But this week - Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel released an opinion saying the city over stepped its bounds.  

Calico rock - population 1,545. Is usually a quiet town - until the beginning of the year.

That's when Rich Fischer and Charles Frances - publishers of the WHITE RIVER CURRENT - attended a city council meeting with a video camera, like they had been doing since may of 2011. The two started video and audio taping the council meeting when, according to Rich Fischer, attention focused on them instead of the proceedings. 

"They had gotten into about 2 minutes of discussion about the business at hand. Fischer said, "and one of the council members asked Charles if he was recording to which Charles responded to the affirmative."

Calico rock Mayor Ronnie Guthrie said things were getting out of hand. "I got on to Rich, told him to be quiet or I would have him put out and he said, "You can try!""

Tempers escalated to the point where the council voted to adjourn only a few minutes into the meeting and then later banned cameras from its meetings.

But this week Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel passed down the opinion that says in part, "I believe there are good grounds to conclude that our foia affords persons the right to videotape a public meeting." McDaniel also says that; "The right to videotape a public meeting is subject to the public body's reasonable regulation and ensure that the activity is done in a manner that does not disrupt the meeting."

Guthrie says the two were doing more than just using a camera - but interrupting the meeting. That's something no-one can do. Guthrie says they allow times for comments from the audience but that the two publishers were interrupting the procedures and that's what prompted the ban as well has the mayor having a deputy present at council meetings.

Charles Francis showed me the cell-phone sized camera he uses at meetings.  

"This is what I video with in council meetings and the two council meetings since they have been banned." Francis says, "I have been taking pictures with this very same instrument. So we don't feel that it's disruptive what so ever."

Mayor Guthrie says he understands the need to get the proceedings out to the public although several citizens have told him they won't attend meetings with a video camera present. Guthrie went on in regards to the publishers.

 "They either need to come here as journalists or private citizens, not both."

For Fischer and Francis, they just want to be able to bring a camera to these meetings once again and hope that the AG's opinion will help to avoid legal action on both sides of this issue. 

Fischer, "They interpret the FOIA and the intent of the FOIA such that video recording would be included as the right of the citizens access to public information."

The controversial city council meeting can be viewed on YouTube at  Charles081048

Below is the Opinon section of Attorney General Dustin McDaniels reply:

The answer to your first question is, in my opinion, "yes." When one reads the FOIA broadly to foster greater openness and more disclosure—as we are required to do—I believe there are good grounds to conclude that our FOIA affords persons the right to videotape a public meeting.  According to my research, this also accords with the law in the overwhelming majority of states. But, in response to your second question, the right to videotape a public meeting is subject to the public body's reasonable regulation. While such regulation cannot ban videotaping, the regulation can ensure that the activity is done in a manner that does not disrupt the meeting. In my view, the mere fact that a member of the public body is uncomfortable being filmed is not a sufficient reason to ban the videotaping. When it comes to videotaping public meetings, the FOIA appears to give greater rights than does the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because—in response to your third question—the amendment does not give people a right to videotape public proceedings.

 Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.