Last week, Schuylkill County Commissioners Chairman Boots Hetherington told the Times-News that the board could back off its new limit on recording public meetings.
In an interview with the newspaper, Hetherington said of this one specific part of the rule, “If that’s a problem, we can take it out.”
Boots also said that adding the rule about recordings wasn’t his idea. But he didn’t specify whose it was.
READ THE TIMES-NEWS: Schuylkill moves to restrict public comment
In a 2-1 vote last week, the Commissioners voted to allow its meetings to be recorded only if notice was given prior to the meeting. That’s a pretty clear violation of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.
Schuylkill Commissioners May Back Off Rules on Recording Public Meetings
It took more than a week for him to realize that there was a “problem” with the rule blocking the free recording of public Commissioners meetings. And even still, the Schuylkill County solicitor Al Marshall told the Times-News, said he would “look into” Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, if it was OK for the Commissioners to ban recording of their meetings.
Pennsylvania Sunshine Act and Recording Devices
We looked into the details of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act and what it states regarding recording devices.
Here’s a look at the text of the Sunshine laws that spell out the rules:
It reads as follows:
“Except as provided in subsection (b), a person attending a meeting of an agency shall have the right to use recording devices to record all the proceedings.”
That’s basically saying anyone has the right to record public meetings. However, it’s not necessarily a free pass.
There’s one exception and it’s in the next line:
“Nothing in this section shall prohibit the agency from adopting and enforcing reasonable rules for their use under section 710 (relating to rules and regulations for conduct of meetings),” the PA Sunshine Act states.
So, this means that the County Commissioners can establish some rules on how such recordings can be used but they must be “reasonable” rules. That’s nice to see how the bill leaves at least something open to interpretation.
The “exception as provided in subsection (b)” from above references how the recordings can not disrupt the order of meetings.
Recordings conducted by The Canary and by any other member of the public or media have not been disruptive. Our short clips merely highlight discussions or back-and-forth conversations between some members of the public, including two elected officials, and the Commissioners.
Other Rules Standing for Now
The other rules as part of the Commissioners controversial vote last week still stand. So does the rule on recordings for now, too.
And there are rules in the Sunshine Act which do allow a government body to establish rules of order for their meetings.
Obviously, no one really expected to have the situation that’s relegated the public to participating by Zoom call rather than attending in person at the Courthouse. So, everyone’s rules on this subject are rather raw.
Some boards locally, like the Pottsville Area school board, do just read comments that are submitted. But it’s been that way from the beginning of the Zoom meeting era. In the case of the Commissioners, the rules are changing because of what’s been happening during meetings lately.
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