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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Quorum Court - Can You Hear Us?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

After 41 years of being a news reporter, it is a no-brainer that I find the Fulton County Quorum Court's 'no video recording allowed at our meetings' stupid and absurd -- expecially when you consider I was a television news reporter for 35 of those years. In television news, it was hard to do a story without video of what I was covering.

Despite my personal feelings, I haven't dwelled on the topic. Right after the vote was taken, I wrote an editorial column titled "Quorum Court got it wrong," pointing out government meetings are public meetings, and three Attorney General opinions (now four opinions) state the obvious -- video taping meetings is no different than writing notes or using an audio tape recorder. I had my say and tried to forget about it.

The issue won't go away, however. The Calico Rock City Council decided to reverse its "no video" ban, rather than face a lawsuit from the White River Current newspaper.

That put our Quorum Court all alone on the Arkansas Public Meeting Wall of Shame -- the only known government body in the state to refuse to allow video recording of its meetings.

After Calico Rock reversed itself, we ran an editorial page opinion poll question: Now that the Calico Rock City Council has allowed video taping of its meetings, the Fulton County Quorum Court is the only elected body to prohibit such recording in Arkansas. Is it time for them to allow taping also?

The question attracted 214 responses -- more than usual. 74.8 percent responded, 'Yes, meetings should be as open as possible." 25.2 percent responded, "No, if you want to know what goes on, show up at the meetings."

I'm not great at math, but the Quorum Court's policy was opposed by a three to one margin.

21 people, who took the time to cast their vote, also wrote comments on the question. Not one of the comments supported the 'no video ban.' Most expressed the same opinion: What does the Quorum Court have to hide?Here is a sampling of comment:

*No transparency gives the impression they (Justices of the Peace) have something to hide.

*The meeting is public, in a public place. How can they NOT allow video taping of it? (from a Stone County J-P)

*It's a public meeting and our tax dollars.

Now, there is a new way that people can tell Quorum Court it is time to join the 21st Century and recognize that video cameras are here to stay.

Salem native, Jordan King, who is a student at Central Arkansas University at Conway, has been home for the summer. Since he is studying journalism, he got a job at the Pacesetting Times, and covered his first Quorum Court meeting in June. King was shocked to learn that Fulton County is leading the way in backwardness, by not allowing video recording.

King recently went to a website called choice.org, and put together a petition titled: Fulton County Quorum Court: Allow the filming of quorum court meetings.

The petition explains that in 2011 Quorum Court defied logic and voted to ban the filming of its meetings. He is not proud that our local governing body is the only one in the state to say 'no' to taping. He asks people to sign his petition calling for the ban to be lifted "to enable a larger number of residents to be informed." If you want to sign the petition, the e-mail address is: http://www.change.org/petitions/fulton-c....

Change.org is an interesting web site. Many of the petitions there have 100,000 or 200,000 signatures. King's petition has 16 so far. Make that 17 -- I signed it. Maybe it won't take 100,000 signatures to send a message to our Justices of the Peace that it's time they did the right thing, and stop embarassing us.