More and more frequently our rights to record the audio and video of public meetings is being trampled upon by arrogant and elitist public officials. Although recording such meetings in a non-disruptive manner is perfectly legal in most situations, many officials try to prohibit it. In some cases they even confiscate the recordings and even citizens’ equipment. They are either ignorant of the law, think we are ignorant of the law, or they just don’t care about out rights and freedoms. Speaking of the law, you will find it at the end of this post. This is very important – The city of Jacksonville recently discontinued offical recordings of their meetings. We may be all we’ve got left!
Below is an account of a physician in St. Petersburg, Florida being ejected from just such a meeting. From his blog, http://sunbeamtimes.com/:
City Apologizes for Prohibiting Video Camera and Ejecting Dr. McKalip from Meeting.
Author’s note: The “fireworks” start at about the 1:12 point in the below video (see link).
As reported here last week, Special Magistrate for St. Petersburg Code Enforcement Dorthea Beane had security remove me from a meeting for refusing to agree that I would not videotape the business she was conducting on behalf of the Citizens of St. Petersburg. Thankfully, the city attorney has recognized that state law DOES allow local citizens to record public business in a nondisruptive way. More importantly, the city recognized I was not being disruptive and should not have been removed from the meeting. Here is the email that is referring to the events that were recorded last week, the actual video showing the ejection, and the video I took that was considered objectionable (at first).
From: John Wolfe [mailto:John.Wolfe@stpete.org]
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2011 3:53 PM
To: David McKalip
Subject: Re: FW: Complaint and questions
Pursuant to our telephone conversation of today I wish to assure you that Florida State Law as currently interpreted by the Courts does allow for nondisruptive audio and video recordings of public meetings.
The incident that occurred on September 27th was unfortunate.
As you know Dorthea Bean, is a volunteer who has been of great and valuable assistance to the City for several years. With our reduced budgets, volunteers have become more important that ever and we appreciate the service of all of our volunteer workers.
Volunteers are provided with briefings on the general laws and procedures that are applicable to their duties. However, do to the complexity of the law, not every situation can always be anticipated and covered. Such was the case with regard to this situation.
Our staff has since been in contact with Dorthea Bean and she has now been briefed on what the law requires in these types of matters.
The person running a public meeting has the right to have people removed from a meeting if they are truly disruptive. However, after viewing the recording of the meeting, I do not believe that your actions of recording the proceeding warranted removal from the Chambers. I therefore apologize personally and on behalf of the City.
First, let me make it clear what we reported last week. Dorthea Beane is a volunteer and she provides a valuable service to the city. She seems to be a fair and compassionate adjudicator based on my review of the full video of the meeting. But she made a mistake in not allowing me to record her public meeting on video and in angrily telling me not take her video and finally ejecting me from the meeting.
This episode serves as a lesson to all citizens who seek transparency and accountability.
- You have a right to be there and to record video and audio in nondisruptive ways.
- You need not be intimidated by authority figures that are not following the law.
- When it comes to the Florida Sunshine law and public business, common sense prevails. If it seems like you should have access—-you probably should.
- Working with the city can clarify these issues. Complain to them when you have been wronged and cooler heads will prevail.
So, citizens, get out there and report on your local governments. If you have a story you want to share, let me know and I can put it on the Sun Beam Times!
Florida Statute on Recording Public Meetings (4) Cameras and tape recorders
A board or commission may adopt reasonable rules and policies which ensure the orderly conduct of a public meeting and require orderly behavior on the part of those persons attending a public meeting. A board, however, may not ban the use of nondisruptive recording devices. Pinellas County School Board v. Suncam, Inc., 829 So. 2d 989 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (school board’s ban on unobtrusive videotaping invalid). Accord AGO 91-28. And seeAGO 77-122 (silent nondisruptive tape recording of district meeting permissible).
The Legislature in Ch. 934, F.S., appears to implicitly recognize the public’s right to silently record public meetings. AGO 91-28. Chapter 934, F.S., the Security of Communications Act, regulates the interception of oral communications. Section 934.02(2), F.S., however, defines “[o]ral communication” to specifically exclude “any public oral communication uttered at a public meeting.” See also Inf. Op. to Gerstein, July 16, 1976, stating that public officials may not complain that they are secretly being recorded during public meetings in violation of s. 934.03, F.S.
Photographers’ rights: http://www.tutorial9.net/tutorials/photography-tutorials/your-rights-as-a-photographer/