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Monday, May 2, 2016

Calico Rock City Council lifts video recording ban

Friday, June 29, 2012

The White River Current has reached a compromise with the Calico Rock City Council, and the newspaper resumed video recording of council meetings on Monday, June 11.

In a May vote, the council lifted its ban on video recording, and allowed recording to resume after passing revised meeting procedures that impose restrictions on how recording can be done.

The controversy began last January when the council voted to ban video recording after some council members objected to being taped, claiming a handheld video camera used to tape several meetings was "disruptive."

Charles Francis and Rich Fischer, publishers of the Calico Rock newspaper, began recording council meetings in the fall of 2011 and posting them on the newspaper website.

After the council voted to outlaw recording, Francis and Fischer hired an attorney and were preparing to file suit, when State Senator Missy Irvin intervened, asking the Attorney General's office for an opinion as to whether video recording was allowed under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

In April, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel became the fourth A-G to rule that video recording is allowed.

"In the twenty-first century -- where video cameras are ubiquitous -- "reporting fully" on a public meeting reasonably includes being able to provide video of that meeting...The landslide of authorities from various jurisdictions testifies to the fact that videotape has become a standard way of reporting," the opinion concluded.

Senator Irvin said she sought the A-G's opinion to try to clarify the Freedom of Information Act law. After it was issued she said, "I hope both sides (at Calico Rock) can use this opinion to work out their dispute using common sense and the law."

"I believe it would be difficult for a judge to ignore four different Attorney General opinions," Fischer said, indicating the White River Current would file suit if the Calico Rock City Council did not lift its video recording ban.

In May, at the request of the White River Current, the council met in special session to discuss whether the recording ban should be removed in light of the strong A-G opinion supporting recording. Francis said it was a final chance for the council to act before a lawsuit was filed.

"It is not our desire to sue the city. It is not our desire to see the city incur costs," Francis told a special council meeting. "I'm just asking one more time for you to consider allowing the White River Current and citizens to video, which we feel is our right under the Freedom of Information Act."

"Where we're at right now is, do we want to change our stance on video recording?" Mayor Ronnie Guthrie said.

In discussion which followed, council members were split, but the ban was lifted by a five to three vote.

At the May 11 meeting, the council passed revised meeting procedures allowing video recording if several conditions were met: a person recording a meeting must keep the recorder on his or her person, they must remain in a designated press area and in their seat at all times, and the Mayor or Council have the right to order taping be discontinued if a person involved in recording becomes disruptive.

During a public comment period, Calico Rock business owner John Lynn held up a 1950s still camera, a 1970s Polaroid instant camera and a more recent digital camera -- explaining technology keeps changing, and urging the council to accept video recording.

Another resident, Mary Beck, attacked the council's decision to allow video taping saying, "This isn't about videoing. This is about in-your-face, I'm going to do this my way."

The revised meeting procedures were approved allowing taping with restrictions, as was another change allowing citizens to talk about the topics of their choice -- not just agenda items -- during a three minute public comment period.

The June 11 council meeting then proceeded, and was video taped without incident.

The newspaper publishers are not totally satisfied with the recording policy. They point out they have to stay at a press table along a wall, and are not in a good position to get quality video and audio of meetings.

"A council member asked the public to bear with the council while it sees how the video recording arrangement works, and he expressed a willingness to modify the recording policy if needed," Fischer said.

"We want to show that we can work with the city and record without causing disruption, but some changes are needed to allow people who want to record to do a better job."

Fulton County Quorum Court, which imposed a ban on video recording in August of 2011, now becomes the only known government body in Arkansas to refuse to allow its meetings to be recorded.

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