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Right to transparency defended at supervisors meeting

August 20, 2011

The Thursday night Jay Township Supervisors meeting began with an exchange over freedom of information, with attendees defending their right to record such proceedings.
At Thursday's meeting, two attendees had handheld dictaphones and one had a video camera.
Supervisors said they were upset that information from a previous "special" insurance meeting on Aug. 5, 2011 had appeared in an area newspaper as well as on the internet.
Supervisor Francis Gustafson said, "I've gotten (phone) calls from the insurance company because the meeting wasn't supposed to be taped or recorded and it was recorded and sent to the newspaper and the insurance companies had a fit.
"Anytime you're going to tape, you should stand up and say, 'We're going to tape and record the meeting.'"
Robert Coppola of Weedville quickly assumed responsibility for having taped the meeting.
"There is no policy in place that the public has to acknowledge that they are taping a meeting. It was an advertised public meeting, not a special meeting," Coppola said.
"I don't like sneaky stuff," Gustafson said.
Another resident who was recording the meeting in progress questioned supervisors on whether they would do something differently if the meeting wasn't being recorded.
"It seems to me it doesn't matter if it was recorded. Would you have conducted the meeting the same way if you knew it was being recorded?" she asked.
Pennsylvania law protects the public's right to record public meetings, excluding executive sessions, as long as the act of recording is itself not disruptive to a meeting. It also states that a governmental body cannot prohibit the recording of such a meeting, but can implement rules or restrictions designed to maintain order within the meeting.
Gustafson said that a written policy requiring attendees to announce they are recording meetings of the Jay Township Board will be adopted by the three supervisors in the future.

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