header image
Vernon officials differ on videotaping policy

 VERNON — A new policy regarding filming public meetings is being met with backlash from an assistant town attorney and a council member — despite Mayor Daniel Champagne’s assurance the policy has been fully vetted.

The policy to be voted on Tuesday cites a state statute that says the public has a right to film any public meeting. A Town Council meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall to discuss the policy.

However, the policy also states that “the Vernon Town Council has a right and obligation to conduct its business in an unimpeded and efficient manner,” which limits where cameras can be set up.

As a result, the policy would require all filming to be done from the back half of Council Chambers, and that camera equipment, such as tripods, should not impede traffic flow, obstruct the view of audience members, or block emergency exits.

If the policy were approved, the same rules would apply to meetings held in other locations.

Assistant Town Attorney Mark Branse says the policy is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

He said Thursday that the Freedom of Information Commission states any member of the public has the right to record video and audio of public meetings “as long as they are not disruptive.”

“The Freedom of Information Commission will always err on the side of openness,” Branse said. “If you’re going to refuse someone based on being disruptive, they’d better be really disruptive.”

Branse noted that he has never seen a person filming a meeting that he would consider to be disruptive, and added that even if someone were walking around with a camera, the commission would likely not consider that to be disruptive either.

Town Councilman Michael Winkler agreed, saying in a Saturday email to town officials that the policy “will be struck down by the Freedom of Information Commission if passed at Tuesday’s meeting and enforced.”

No commission members could be reached for comment today.

Under the new policy, cameras also would be prohibited from being set up adjacent to or behind the table for committee members.

But Winkler insists the only way to film the faces of residents who speak at public hearings is to position a camera behind or at the table.

Champagne, however, says the policy has already been vetted by the Freedom of Information Commission.

In a Sunday email from Champagne to the council, Champagne said, “the policy passed was brought to the freedom of information commission and was considered a very good policy.”

He reiterated today that the town has been in contact with the Commission, and he disagrees with Branse’s statements.

“It’s been cleared through the FOI Commission,” Champagne said. “We covered all our bases on this.”

The meetings are broadcast live on television, but Winkler calls into question the quality of the video and Champagne’s desire to provide the best quality.

“For the last few years, the video has been unwatchable,” Winkler said. “In my opinion, the mayor has always been hostile to the coverage of council meetings.”

Winkler said he had a cameraman lined up to record meetings, but the administration “sent him packing” because “the administration didn’t really want them broadcast.”

“I think the public should see what’s happening,” Winkler said.

Champagne admitted there have been issues in the past with the live feed, but those resulted from the cable company’s equipment malfunctions, not the town’s, and that those problems have been solved.

“Our feed is considerably better right now,” he said, noting the town is in the process of updating its equipment.

The proposed policy was developed in response to complaints from members of the town’s commissions about disruptive practices regarding filming meetings, and that Winkler is the sole reason for the complaints, Champagne said.

He said the policy is designed to make sure fire lanes are cleared and commission members, who are volunteers, are not made to feel uncomfortable during meetings.

“We’re not trying to stop people from videotaping,” he said. “We’re stopping people from interfering with the meeting.”

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don’t Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the ‘Report’ link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.