To the Back of the Room for Photo Taking and Recordings at Grafton Township Meetings

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:

Determination

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.

Sincerely,

Steve Silverman
Assistant Public Access Counseloriz


Comments

To the Back of the Room for Photo Taking and Recordings at Grafton Township Meetings — 26 Comments

  1. An “open meeting” means an OPEN meeting, without any requirement to sign in or identify yourself. The Sheriff’s Dept. Merit Commission attempted to pull that fast one on me one day.

    The Open Meetings Act is clear – one can record or photograph the open meeting unless he caused a disruption. Merely taking pictures is not a disruption. If the noses of the Trustees get out of joint because they are being photographed, then they should see a therapist.

    If they want to pick a legal fight, they are quite likely to find one. They’ll spend a lot of money on the way to the loser’s corner of the ring.

  2. Why is it unreasonable for those recording or taking pictures to be at the back of the room, out of the way of the general public? Seriously, get over it, be respectful of those who attend the meetings, and use the zoom feature on your cameras.

    In short, put on your big boy panties and suck it up.

  3. Grafton officials need to be voted out of office. They do all this unnecessary work to make it justify their positions, but any intelligent person sees right through them. They are just wasting our hard earned tax dollars to make their buddies rich (I wish I was their attorney).

  4. This is a really looonnnggg article for something that is really not that big of a deal.

  5. I think this is a huge deal.

    I agree with Cal.

    I do not agree that that photographers, recorders, videographers, and the such should be banished to the back of the room. The people recording are taxpayers. Taxpayers have a right to record the government from the front row.

    It seems to me the taxpayers here doing the recording are doing so on their personal time with equipment purchased with their personal funds. They are concerned citizens. They want the best recorded history about their local government.

    If a government official does not want to be recorded up close, too bad. It’s part of the job. If you don’t want to be recorded, don’t run for office, and don’t attend a public meeting.

    Transparency should prevail. Any any attempt to minimize transparency should fail.

    I would fight this and make it a campaign issue.

    The message from this government seems to be, pay your taxes and don’t get too close to us.

    I wonder if Lisa Madigan agrees with this Steve Silverman.

  6. To Team Moore person @ 11:17am

    “Concerned Citizens”?? Are you talking about something besides Grafton Twshp meetings? You consider David Moore a concerned citizen? Perhaps when it comes to bowing down to his wife and following every single thing that she tells him to do. Kind of like a little puppy dog.

    The transparency comment made me laugh. Thanks.

  7. Huh? I am not a Team Moore person. I don’t know him. I don’t know who he is other than the article on Cal’s site. I don’t live in Grafton township. I don’t even live in McHenry County.

    My point is people should be able to record public meetings from the front row, they should not be banished to the back row.

    Moving on.

    Looking at the Grafton Township website http://www.graftontownship.us.

    A click on the “Trustee” tab reveals the names of the four elected trustees.
    # Betty Zirk
    # Gerry McMahon
    # Rob LaPorta
    # Barbara Murphy

    However only two pictures appear.
    Gerry McMahon
    Rob LaPorta

    I would think at a minimum, in the name of open government, pictures of each trustee should be posted, with a paragraph or two containing a profile/biography.

    Note what is never listed on township websites. The compensation, benefits, and perks trustees receive from their elected positions. That would be easy information to post and certainly many taxpayers would like easy access to such information. So why not post it?

  8. Re: “Donna McMahon approaches the camera after the October meeting’s adjournment. This is a picture taken right before she covers the lens. The message is surely that the Trustees don’t want people to be able to see what happens during, and, apparently, afterward from anywhere in the room, but, since they can’t ban that, they will instead make it as impossible to get close-up shots as possible.”

    Mrs. McMahon, what were you thinking? Let’s assume you’re a nice lady but somehow you think it’s okay to touch someone’s camera or otherwise put something on it? Truly, I’m curious where you get the impression that you are the “camera god/goddess.” Are you also aware that people have cell phones with the ability to do still photos or videos? It’s called technology. It’s the 21st century. Keep this attitude up and you may one day have an entire room full of people holding their camera phones toward the front of the public meeting room.

    What do you do then, ask the police to come to tell taxpayers they can’t use their phones or record what’s going on in spite of the OMA recording directive?

    Please, I’m sure the local papers would be thrilled to create stories that you tried to hide OM info from the public. You might even get every reporter from 100 miles around at the meeting to make all of you look even more foolish. Keep it up and maybe you and the others will make national news under the banner of “Freedom of the Press blown out of the water by …………” It could become a huge circus. How dumb do you folks want to look on national TV? Our country’s adult children are fighting to survive and to protect the freedom of others. Don’t start nonsense here that threatens the public’s right to know what goes on at local govt. open meetings. I don’t even want to think what I’d try to explain to a local teen who believes in freedom.

    It’s one thing to ask that people not interfere in some way with the meeting and to make reasonable arrangements. It’s another thing stopping freedom.

    You don’t have to like it.

  9. After a closer look at Mr. Skinner’s first picture of me that he identifies as my attempt to cover his camera lense, I noticed it was taken in someone’s kitchen … certainly not mine! (Note the refrigerator in the background. I also have no knowledge of any Grafton Township Meeting being held in someone’s kitchen. So I have no idea who was covering his camera lens nor do I have any idea why he said I was in that picture and accuse me of trying to cover his camera lens. As for the “look below” picture … I don’t remember ever being that close to Mr. Skinner. What was I thinking? However, it also clearly shows I was in no way covering his lens. So, Mr. Skinner, as usual, your posts are terribly flawed.

  10. After a closer look at Mr. Skinner’s first picture that he identifies as my attempt to cover his camera lens, I noticed it was taken in someone’s kitchen … certainly not mine! (Note the refrigerator in the background.) I also have no knowledge of any Grafton Township Meeting being held in someone’s kitchen. So I have no idea who was covering his camera lens nor do I have any idea why he even said I was in that picture and then accuse me of trying to cover his camera lens. As for the “look below” picture … I don’t remember ever being that close to Mr. Skinner! What was I thinking?? However, it also clearly shows I was in no way covering his lens much less touching it. So, Mr. Skinner, as usual, your posts are terribly flawed!

  11. Get over yourself, Cal and stand at the back of the room. No one is saying you cant take pictures…just do it at the back of the room. Didn’t your little buddy, Ms Moore, make that request at one of the meetings? …or maybe she meant that for people other than her friends.

  12. For Dee…

    Please DO invite every reporter within 100 miles. Linda can see her name in the headlines the next morning…perhaps something like, “Grafton Township Supervisor Delays State Mandated Audit for Two Consecutive Years”.

  13. I really don’t understnad the argument here. There is NOTHING saying you can’t take pictures or videos at all! All they are saying is to stand at the back of the room (which to me is common courtesy since as photographers and videographers go, they are usually moving around, standing up, leaning over, etc. to get shots they want). This is so that other people attending the meeting will have an unobstructed view that is not disruptive of the meeting.

    If the back of the room does not provide a sufficient shot, maybe a new camera is in order? One of those fancy, new-fangled things that have this option called zoom? I don’t know about anyone else but my personal camera can zoom in pretty close from a decent distance away.

    What a stupid argument.

  14. I think you are all missing the BIGGEST and greatest opportunity in this entire saga…

    If Cal were to take all his stories, all his photos, all his documents, and combine his efforts with those of others who might possibly have captured this incredible ‘story’ on video…

    I could turn it all into a ‘script,’ local theater people could get together, and do a weekly ‘reenactment’ at the Woodstock Opera house!!! Selling tickets.

    This could be a huge Plus for the tax payers of this township!!!

    What a reality show this could parlay into!!!

    Keep up the good work, I’ve never been so entertained by any other television ‘reality show.’

    If I were in possession of any video with sound of these meetings, I’d be sending a copy to Hollywood… You just might get a ‘Call Back.’

  15. Well if I were getting sued, I would certainly pay a lawyer for advice! Duh!

  16. Ha Ha Ha Back of room Mr Obnoxious. Glad of the result. Hope they throw you out when you violate the rule.

  17. I think its hilarious that “For Dee and Alan” best bud DID create a national media circus by trying to censor the Huntley High School Newspaper because they wanted to print an insightful, TRUTHFUL editorial about then board member Larry Snow.

  18. Mr. Skinner … I wonder why you haven’t allowed my comment to be voiced. Are you afraid of the truth? What a blunder with that phony picture. Was it your kitchen? It doesn’t surprise me that you have chosen not to allow my comments … Right now I’m researching the validity of your other photos. I don’t think the dates you put on them are correct.

  19. A caption under one of Cal’s photos: “Here is a video camera lens being covered by Trustee Gerry McMahon’s wife Donna after an October, 2009, meeting. How do I know? Look at the photo below.”

    Huh??? This looks nothing of the sort! There’s a fridge in the background! I’ve never seen one of those at the meetings! Are you having ‘private’ meetings at ‘someones’ home, Cal?

  20. First time posters have to be approved. The comment is now up.

    The refrigerator is a reflection off the TV screen from which the image was captured. It is in our kitchen. The screen after it was covered was pretty black.

  21. Cal … you only posted the second comment … not my first comment. Seems to me you are admitting you made a mistake … sort of. An honest person with integrity would apologize. I won’t hold my breath.

  22. Could it be that the mysterious refrigerator is part of the New Linda Moore Commemorative Food Pantry?

    Seriously, without a face in that distorted photo, the only thing it shows clearly is a refrigerator. For all we know this Covert Ops pic was taken when someone was in your kitchen fixing a sandwich at 1am. There have been no refrigerators at any Grafton meetings I’ve attended, so I can safely assume the picture is fraudulent and the comment is slanderous.

  23. Hey I only have a problem if the photographer gets behind us…then it becomes disruptive. Every time we have a fire or police promotion or a new swear in we have multiple videos running from the audience….it is no problem. If we were to relagate these folks to the back of the chamber we would be doing a dis service to their families. It is really important to them to capture the event on video…..so if we allow that…we cannot dis allow the general public…i.e. = litmus test…just sayin

  24. When the lens is covered one sees a black screen. Donna McMahon’s face, of course, could not be seen through the cloth over the lens.

  25. This past weekend I’ve been reflecting upon the unnecessary stress I caused the McMahon family by publishing the photos of Donna that I did. I’ve taken them down and apologize for putting them up.

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