Joined: 16 Jun 2003
Location: Medford, NJ
|Posted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 7:45 pm Post subject: Medford Township Council Meetings...
|Wouldn't it be nice if Council meetings were videotaped, and the tapes made available through the Internet, or the meetings shown on Channel 19 (the public access channel provided to the Lenape Regional High School District by Comcast as per the franchise agreement with Medford Township)? In fact, Medford Township could request and receive a 2nd public access channel of their own, if they wanted to, and meetings could be broadcast live (and rebroadcast) on this channel.
There is an open public meeting law in NJ, as well as a Sunshine Law that requires this sort of access. However, if any of you have been to a Council Meeting you will know that most issues that are voted on are announced with only a brief summary of what is being decided, and unless a citizen has the guts to stand up and ask questions, the details are never provided. This includes such details as the amount of money being spent or authorized, the length of a contract, the percentage increase versus previous spending levels, the supplier, etc. Perhaps one of these days Medford Town Council will see fit to shine some light on the details of where our money is going. It is sure to happen one of these days... just not any time soon.
I get the feeling that Council feels that it is better to have the ability to just take care of business without getting into a lot of discussion with the average citizens of this town. Sure... it's understandable that there are a lot of issues, and 20 minutes of debate on each motion would make for very long Tuesday nights twice a month. Perhaps the details of each motion to be decided could be typed up and posted in advance, so the explanations wouldn't have to be provided verbally... sort of answering questions in advance.
An interesting story in the Courier Post... a citizen in Pine Hill got into arguments with his Town Council over videotaping, and he has taken his case to the State Supreme Court.
TRENTON - A citizen's right to have access to town meetings and videotape them was argued before the state Supreme Court Tuesday.
Robert Wayne Tarus, 50, of Pine Hill, contests that the borough violated common law and his constitutional right to tape the public meetings.
Tarus, an operations manager for a transportation and trucking company, said he began taping the meetings for his own reference and to show them to people who could not attend them due to limited transportation or scheduling conflicts.
"It's a way to keep tabs on what they say. They can say one thing one month, another a next month, or say they didn't say it at all," said Tarus. "Taping is just a way to show people what is going on in their government.
Tarus was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct on two occasions in 2000 when he refused to turn off his video camera during two council meetings after members of the audience raised concerns about being videotaped.
Pine Hill Solicitor John Kerney said the town had instituted guidelines for taping their meetings stemming from Tarus' first complaint and that Tarus had been arrested because he had not allowed time to allow those guidelines to be put in place.
"We are making a mountain out of a molehill here," said Kerney.
Some of the justices seemed to think so, too.
Associate Justice Roberto A. Rivera-Soto at one point appeared fed up with the case, saying that he did not see the "big deal" regarding using a camera to tape meetings. Told that cameras have been used in meetings since the incident six years ago, he said that despite the cameras "the republic has not come to a screeching halt."
Michael Kassak, attorney representing then-Mayor Leslie Gallagher, said that Tarus was not barred from participating in the meeting and was asked repeatedly to turn off the camera or move the location of the camera. The only problem came up was when Tarus would not compromise on how he used the video camera.
"It was his way, or no way," said Kassak. "There is common law support for a general right to videotape, and there is a constitutional right to access to the meetings, but the disconnect is between the right of access and his claim that he can do it as he chooses on his terms as he wanted."
Jennifer Klear, who wrote a brief for the court on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that towns everywhere should create reasonable guidelines to allow for the taping of their elected officials.
"It's not just about this one incident or town. This speaks to the broader issue of the First Amendment and everyone's right to access," said Klear.
In municipal court in 2000, Tarus was acquitted of all charges. After he filed a federal lawsuit that failed, Tarus filed a state lawsuit against the town, former mayor and former police chief, on which an appeals panel ruled for the town in November 2005.