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If it's 'open,' why not videotape it?
- Categorized in: Lawsuits and Legal Actions
Jersey Journal Editorial
Monday, November 28, 2005
There was an interesting state appeals court ruling Wednesday that will probably be closely read by Hudson County's municipal officials involving the rights, or rather lack of rights, to videotape open government meetings.
The three-judge court unanimously dismissed a lawsuit by a Camden County man who claimed he was wrongfully arrested for attempting to videotape two borough council meetings in September 2000.
The man who brought the suit said he had seen Pine Hill Borough Council members change their stories and wanted an accurate record of their comments. The conflict arose when the mayor polled those present and found that several members of the audience did not wish to be videotaped. She told the man with the camcorder to turn off his camera and he was eventually arrested.
There has been a partisan practice of people videotaping local government sessions here in Hudson County, particularly in North Bergen and Union City where politics are an extreme sport. At one point this year, the Union City police chief circulated a memo reminding officers that the Police Department does not videotape audiences during public meetings. One assumes this was done as a reminder, in case someone gets it into his head to bring a camera that might intimidate members of the audience.
Intimidation was not on the mind of the appellate justices. Appellate Division Judge Anthony Parrillo ruled the state Constitution protects the right of the public to attend public meetings, not to videotape the proceedings. Is it all that simple?
This decision knocks out a 1984 appeals court ruling that gave members of a teachers union the right to videotape the proceedings of a school board. Thus ends a right citizens have had for the past 21 years, unless the state Supreme Court reverses the most recent ruling.
It is our opinion that public meetings should be open enough that videotaping the proceedings should not be a factor. At a time when less and less is accessible to the public - often under the guise of homeland security - why should anyone feel squeamish about a camcorder?
Many government meetings in Hudson County can be seen on cable TV. The ruling makes little sense, but should the high court uphold the appellate division, then it is up to the Legislature to correct the error.
If not, one wonders what the words "open public" meeting mean. Then what is next - secret ballots for government action?
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