David Moore sits in the front row unobtrusively taping a Grafton Township Board meeting. From left to right at the table are Grafton Township Trustees Barb Murphy, Betty Zirk and Gerry McMahon, all of whom voted to banish videographers, photographers and those making audio recordings to the back of the room. Reporter Pete Gonigam sits to his far right taking notes. Trustee Rob LaPorta left the meeting early.
Just as whites were more privileged than blacks on Montgomery Alabama, buses, those trying to video or audio tape and photograph Grafton Township meetings seem to be now less equal than print reporters with pencil and pad.
This picture of David Moore was taken at a December, 2009, Grafton Township Board meeting. Donna McMahon and attorney Keri-Lyn Krafthefer sit to his right.
The Public Access Division of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office has issued a non-binding ruling to yours truly and Grafton Township Supervisor Linda Moore seemingly affirming the resolution passed on April 8, 2010, restricting
“the use of audio and video recording equipment and photography equipment to either the final row of seats or behind the final row of seats in the meeting room,”
as Assistant Public Access Counselor Steve Silverman puts it in his letter of April 14, 2011.
David Moore tapes from the front row. Note how he is not obstructing anyone's view of the meeting.
When I received a communication asking if I had any rebuttal to what was sent in by former Grafton Township Attorney Keri-Lyn Krafthefer of the law firm Ancel Glink, you can bet I did.
You can read it here.
But, it apparently fell short.
The “Determination” is not a binding opinion, so it cannot be appealed to Circuit Court under Administrative Review Act.
The Determination, in which I have separated the sentences to make it easier to read on a screen, follows:
Section 2. 05 of OMA provides that “any person may record the proceedings at meetings required to be open by this Act by tape, film or other means. The authority holding the meeting shall prescribe reasonable rules to govern the right to make such recordings.”
5 ILCS 140/ 2.05. In an informal opinion ( a copy of which is attached hereto), the Office of the Attorney General previously advised that ” reasonable rules” under Section 2. 05 are ” guidelines which protect the integrity of a public meeting and those participating in it” and “guidelines that prevent interference with the overall decorum and proceedings of a meeting.”
Thus, the right of the public to record open meetings should only be limited pursuant to prescribed rules of the public body, and only to the extent truly necessary to prevent disruptions or safety hazards.
Based on the available information, it appears that the Board’ s restriction on the use of photography and recording equipment constituted a reasonable rule governing the right to record under Section 2. 05 of OMA.
The meeting minutes show that the Board member who made the motion to approve the rule indicated that Board members had been distracted during meetings by close range flash photography.
At an October meeting Trustee Gerry McMahon got so out of control that Trustee Barb Murphy (on the left) moved to censure him. The motion passed.
The restriction limited Mr. Skinner’ s choice of angles for photographing Board members, but did not bar Mr. Skinner or any other individual from photographing or recording meetings.
This shot of the meeting room shows the amount of space behind the tables where the public officials sit.
We also note that, in light of the relatively small size of the meeting rooms used by the Board, restricting the use of photography and recording equipment to either the last row of seats or behind the last row of seats constituted a relatively minor limitation which did not substantively interfere with the statutory right to record meetings.
Therefore, we conclude based on the information at our disposal that the action taken by the Board on April 8, 2010 to restrict the placement of individuals operating recording and photography equipment did not violate the public’ s right to record Board meetings under Section 2. 05 of OMA.
Here's a view of a regular meeting room from the back.
This Board subsequently enacted a comprehensive ordinance to establish rules for recording, including a similar restriction on the placement of individuals operating video and photography equipment.
That ordinance is not at issue in this determination letter as the Board enacted it after Mr. Skinner filed his Request for Review.
A November, 2009, shot of the officials' table and space behind.
However, Mr. Skinner objected to parts of the ordinance in his reply to the Township’ s response to his allegations and we are concerned that certain portions may constitute unreasonably restrictive rules under Section 2.05.
A view of the not-so-small room from its back.
Most notably, the ordinance requires that individuals provide advance notice of their intent to record meetings by signing a sign- in sheet, and authorizes the Board to ” prohibit the recording of any audience member who objects to being recorded.”
It is not readily apparent why those rules and certain other restrictions in the ordinance are necessary to prevent disruptions or safety hazards at Board meetings.
We strongly suggest that the Board review the entire ordinance for compliance with Section 2. 05 of OMA based on the standard for ” reasonable rules” set forth above.
This letter will serve to close this matter. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (312) 814- 6756.
Assistant Public Access Counseloriz