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Fulton County Quorum Court deals with public's right to record meetings

Friday, July 22, 2011

(Photo)
Quorum Court members assembled under the glare of a video camera at the Monday, July 11, meeting. Viola residents Jack and Nancy Cole set up the camera to record the meetings in order to better hear the discussion between court members.
The addition of a video camera to the Quorum Court proceedings was a hot topic on Monday, July 11.

Fulton County residents Jack and Nancy Cole set up the video camera, in an effort to both hear the full discussion of the court and to be able to share the meeting with those unable to attend in person.

"Ms. Cole called me today and said they wanted to start videotaping our Quorum Court sessions. And according to Jason Owens and Dewayne Plumlee, we have to adopt a rule to either allow or prohibit video recording devices in our quorum court. So if you want to allow the video recording, you must adopt a rule to allow it, or if you want to prohibit it, you have to make a motion and a second to prohibit recording devices.

JP Michael Barnett made the motion to prohibit the devices and JP David Cunningham seconded the motion.

JP Marjorie Rodgers asked, "Why don't we want this information out? If other counties and other cities are doing it, and it's been working well...I know Sharp County does it and I think Baxter does it. I know a lot of Villages, a lot of cities do it too. It seems to work well and keeps everyone, the public, informed and not mis-informed about what actually happens at the meeting."

JP Lynn Guffey replied, "It's open to the public anyway, so they can come and watch."

Nancy Cole then asked to approach the court, so she could explain why she wanted to record the meetings.

We want to record the meetings, because a lot of us as you may notice, are not kids anymore and we don't have very good ears and sometimes we can't hear. Especially if someone's talking who has their back to us, we can't hear what's going on. And since this is a public meeting, we want to be able to hear and that way we aren't mis-informed about anything you say or don't say. Nobody comes to wrong conclusions this way. When we decided that we were going to record the meetings, we wondered if it was legal. We wanted to be sure that we were asking to do something that was legal. So we did our home work about that and we have three attorney general's opinions right here that say the public has the right, along with the news media, to use equipment to broadcast or record these meetings.

"That refers to tape recorders. I checked with our two attorneys and that's what they told me," said Fulton County Judge Charles Willett.

Many on the court expressed concerns over where the footage would be used, and by whom.

"Where will this be available," asked JP Jim Bickers. "Is this going to go viral or what? Will it be on YouTube?"

Cole responded that she had no intention of uploading the video to an internet platform.

"We just want to be sure that we understand what you all are saying in meetings. Sometimes we'll go home and say, 'We don't know what they said.' We just couldn't hear the discussion. And once in a while, we have people who come but are absent that night for one reason or another - they're sick or what have you - and this way, they could see what happened."

A gentleman in the audience then spoke up. "My concern is this - what's it going to be used for? Who are "we" and what else is this going to be used for? I understand that your motives for this are good, but who, besides "we," are going to be able to see this?"

"Anybody who wants to see it in the county should be able to see it," replied Cole.

"I would think it would be better for the Quorum Court to record it and then they could keep it in their own records and control it's use," replied the gentleman in the audience.

JP Barnett then added, "I just have a problem with private individuals doing this, but I wouldn't have a problem if it was the county doing it."

"It would be fine for us for the county to do it and keep it here at the courthouse, and it would be available through the Freedom of Information Act," said Cole.

Judge Willett's wife, Karen, then spoke up from the audience to address the issue.

"If they're having trouble hearing, what's to stop the court from getting a microphone and putting it on your table," asked Willett. "And I, as a public citizen, don't necessarily want someone recording everything, if I want to stand up and say something or take my picture or put it on a film. It's my business. Who's going to determine what they edit or don't edit. It's a public meeting, they can come to the meeting."

Mary Rivera then approached the court with copies of the three attorney general's findings regarding recordings of public meetings.

"I believe these show that it is not just for audio, it is also for video," said Rivera. "According to these we have a right to record the meetings. The one from 1977 in here is signed by Bill Clinton. If you will read these, you will see that we have the right to record public meetings."

"Our attorneys say this can have what's called a 'chilling' effect," said Judge Willett. "People will not voice their actual opinion if an actual video recorder is going, quorum court members and people of the public."

"You are public officials who are representing us, the citizens, and everything you say and do, you should be proud of," said Rivera.

On the opinion by then Attorney General Bill Clinton it says, "This conclusion is based upon consideration of the basic intent of the Freedom of Information Act."

"This is a matter that is before the Quorum Court and you have been allowed to comment," said Judge Willett. "We withdraw the motion made before the court, and choose to table this so that we can further discuss the options available to us and look further into the issue. We can look into some kind of sound system or other alternative."

The hospital received $60,000 in grant money for its energy saving roof. The court moved to appropriate the money so the hospital could pay the roofing company.

"We've got to overlay approximately 2.2 miles of Byron Road where the blacktop is falling apart, from Wheeling to the old Byron store," said Willett. "We need to appropriate $11,203 to pay for it."

The court moved to appropriate the funds and move forward with the project.

Darrell Zimmer, Office of Emergency Management Coordinator for Fulton County, was nominated as a new Fulton County Hospital Board of Governors member, to replace Albert Roork, who stepped down in June. The court unanimously approved the appointment of Zimmer to the board.

The Judge then discussed a bridge project on Sycamore Creek Road, that has a projected cost of $125,000, and is scheduled to begin on July 22. To be able to cover the cost of the repairs, the county will dip into it's loan from White River Planning and Development.

"We're still 3-4 months away from reimbursements from FEMA," said Willett. "We're already about $500,000 in on the work we've been doing to repair our roads. We'll get enough back from FEMA to pay off what we're borrowing from White River, but this way we can get the project done."

Fulton County Sheriff Buck Foley and the judge met with Lee and Associates last week to talk about the jail.

Willett requested that the court table the item until Tuesday, July 19, to discuss all the implications of the project. The court agreed, and set a meeting time of 6:30pm on Tuesday evening.

The News will attend this meeting and report on it in the July 28 issue of the paper.

The next regular meeting of the Fulton County Quorum Court will be Monday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.


Comments
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If the Quorum Court doesn't have anything to hide, they should allow the tape recording of the meetings. If they have a recorder treasurer, he/she should be recording the meetings anyway. If they are going to discuss matters such as employee information or sensitive matters they can go into executive session. It is legal to have the recordings in the meeting, and the Cole's would have a right to take it to court if the City doesn't allow it.

Full transcribed minutes should also be made available to the public for those who are unable to attend the meetings and as a matter of public record.

-- Posted by goatgirl on Sat, Jul 23, 2011, at 11:59 PM


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