Is Commissioner Fossos getting a fair hearing on his motion?

This afternoon, expecting the motion by Commissioner Fossos to be resolved, I went to the Special Meeting of the Board of Commissioners. Apparently, paragraph 6.9 of the official Commissioner Guidelines means nothing to the elected board. Commissioner Fossos raised a motion at the last regular meeting on October 21st, it was tabled, and now remains buried.

6.9 – A motion to table is non-debatable and shall preclude all amendments or debates of the issue under consideration. If the motion to table prevails, the matter may be “taken from the table” only by adding to the agenda of a future Regular or Special meeting at which time discussion will continue; and if an item is tabled, it cannot be reconsidered at the same meeting.

Since the motion was not on the agenda today as required, I asked about the status of it during the last public comment session. Commissioner Gates said it is still tabled. So the suspense continues and we, the public, still do not know if the commissioners are planning on ceasing recording of future meetings.**

The Censoring

At the beginning of the public meeting, I set up a video camera on a side table, directed toward the commissioners.

After the meeting was called to order, and the Pledge of Allegiance finished, Commissioner Gates asked me if I was filming the meeting, I answered yes and he, get this, polled all those present if they objected to being recorded. When I identified myself as a part of the media, and referred to 12.1 of the Guidelines, he questioned my ‘credentials’ then called for a closed executive meeting consult with legal counsel.

The ‘Closed Door Session’

WOW! So recording the proceedings at a public meeting now requires closed door session to determine permission. Hello, Commissioner! This is a PUBLIC meeting of ELECTED OFFICIALS. Recording by any means is allowed.

The Decision

When the board returned from their sudden executive meeting, someone in the audience (Legal Counsel?) was asked to read section 12.1 into the record. He then hastily and arbitrarily concluded that my recording of this public meeting was not allowed! Commissioner Gates then told me to turn off the camera and remove it from the table. Under protest, I complied.

Commissioner Gates then went out of the way to make a special announcement. Taking great care, as if it were something out of the ordinary,to announce that there were members of the audience who may be audio recording this meeting. Commissioner Frietas added that, just to be clear, the department, (as required), was also audio recording the meeting. So, the department can record, but the public may not?

Can you say CENSORSHIP?

What part of public did I miss here? And what legal scholar would condone this kind of censorship?

BTW, this meeting was well attended – by the department. Four out of five commissioners were physically present (and one by tele-conference – [does this qualify him for $104 meeting pay?] {Presumably yes, per section 11.1.}), as well as several members of the fire department and administrative staff. While I can’t say for a fact, I believe, once again, I was the only non-department person representing the public in attendance.

Public meeting – NO Video recording

So, a public meeting, open to the public and subject to recording, somehow interpreted (by an attorney?) to be closed to any ‘public’ not actually in the room. Tell that to the video-grapher at your next public gathering and see how far that gets you!

This made me wonder what they would have done if a ‘card carrying’ reporter from the mainstream media were there. Obviously, a citizen journalist carries no weight with these elected officials and their in-house lawyer.

Although, since this was a public meeting, I maintain that recording is allowed and there was no need to even represent oneself as a member of the media to partake of recording the meeting.

Another cause of action by your elected officials that warrants scrutiny.

I think the Attorney General advises on this type of matter.

**South King Fire & Rescue Board of Commissioners Guidelines for the Conduct of Board Meetings, Proceedings and Business, Updated June 18th, 2010.

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