Sunlight Weekly Roundup: Citizen journalist removed from public meeting

  • In Georgia, Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt removed citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale  from a recent public meeting. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens is investigating whether Gravitt violated the state’s sunshine laws. In an interview, Gravitt claimed that he was confused about the state’s Open Records Act. He thought it “only permitted people to take still pictures or video, and not both.” Check out the video of Tisdale being removed from the meeting  (around the 2:20 mark) by clicking on the image below. As she is being removed, she maintains, “This is an open and public meeting; I have a right by Georgia law to record this meeting.” Ironically, this all took place on the same day that Governor Nathan Deal signed a rewrite of the state’s Open Records Act into law. For more information, see Thomas Wheatly’s post on Fresh Loaf.
  • After a six-year battle between open government advocates and those who opposed a new open government  bill, Iowa is getting a new state agency dedicated to enforcement of open government. The agency is meant to help solve disputes between governments and record seekers and will work as an enforcer to the state’s current open meetings laws. “The biggest benefit of having this is making sure that public records and meetings are open and available to Iowans,” said Chris Mudge, director of the Iowa Newspaper Association. For the whole story, check out Jason Clayworth’s post on the DesMoines Register.
  • In 2011, more than 115 items, including  guns, drugs and money, came up  missing from the Asheville Police Department’s evidence room. Asheville City Council spent $175,000 in taxpayer money to fund an audit of the evidence room. According the the audit contract, a copy of the completed audit should have been made public to the city. The results of the audit were delivered to District Attorney Ron Moore in January. However, Moore  has ignored several open records requests and has not made the results of public. In doing so, Moore has failed to comply with state law requiring a response to open records requests “as promptly as possible.” Members of the local news media and the North Carolina Press Association are currently signing a petition to have the information made public. For the whole story, see David Forbes’ post on Mountain Xpress.
  • Last week, we took a look at the aftermath of a contested mayoral election in New Mexico. The election is in the news again this week. The Doña Ana County district attorney’s office is investigating the possibility that the Sunland Park City Council violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it selected a new mayor following the election scandal. The meeting’s venue was too packed to house the entire crowd. Many people – including at least two who wanted to ask for the appointment to the mayor’s job – were kept by police from entering. Though the state’s Open Meeting Act has rarely been enforced with criminal charges, it requires that anyone who tries to attend a public meeting of a government body be allowed in. For more information, see Heath Haussamen’s post on NMPoltics.
  • On Tuesday, there was a public meeting in Dixon, Illinois to discuss allegation that the city comptroller embezzled $30 million dollars from the city. The meeting featured Dixon business owner and former candidate for state representative Li Arellano. Arellano focused the meeting on making city government more transparent.  A major point in the meeting was the city’s low transparency score from the Illinois Policy Institute and how the cities website failed to contain easily accessible financial information as required. According to the Illinois Policy Institute “A public posting of Dixon’s check register (expenditures) might have stopped the public corruption from happening in the first place.” For Ulysses S. Arn’s take, see his post on USOFarn.
Connect with other transparency bloggers in this Transparency Bloggers Google group   and see what others are doing in the transparency movement by joining this Citizens for Open Government Google Group.