Banning recording devices from public meetings is illegal



I know this column usually pertains to general happenings, whether they are in my life or just in Genesee County as a whole, but I felt this topic was something all of us can read and take something away from when finished.

For seven years now I have followed the trials and tribulations of the Goodrich Village Council. From the battle over the proposed dissolution of the village, which would have incorporated it into Atlas Township, to the ongoing feud over homes built in a flood plain and the dam at the Mill Pond.

Goodrich aside, after more than 25 years in newspapering, when it comes to outrageous politics, I believed I had seen it all … until now.

At the June 8 Goodrich Village Council meeting, President Mark Baldwin told residents and the media present that effective the next council meeting, no recording devices would be allowed without council consent.

Residents and media using such devices, according to Baldwin, was a violation of the council’s “Constitutional rights.”

Really? What Constitution are you talking about Mr. Baldwin? The U.S. Constitution? Or the one that was the rule of law in the former Soviet Union?

Here’s your wake-up call President Baldwin — the Constitution in this country allows for freedom of the press. It allows people to keep their elected officials in check by ensuring business is conducted in public and it makes the council’s action transparent with such tools as video and voice recorders. If you need it simplified for you Mr. Baldwin, let me do that here. If someone wants to come in your house and record you, you can say no. This does not apply to council meetings.

If you are an elected official, serving at the will of the residents of your community, you cannot tell the public “no recording devices allowed in village chambers.” That’s illegal.

Now, the council can go into an executive session, if the right criteria is met, and conduct proceedings in private. The only matters allowed to be discussed in executive session are personnel (hiring, firing, discipline, contract negotiations), pending legal matters and the purchase of property. Council members cannot vote on matters discussed in closed session — voting is done only in the public portion of a meeting.

To me, it sounds as if the council has something to hide when it tries to prohibit recording of its meetings. You want the media to get it right? Then allow your own words to be presented to the public. Recording devices are a great tool for all media so we make sure we are quoting elected officials correctly.

Or is it easier to deny you said something or were taken out of context when a recording does not exist?

I think it’s time Mark Baldwin tender his resignation as village president and step down, since he considers freedom of speech, freedom of the press and government transparency to be a violation of his Constitutional rights.

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