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Boots Says County Could Back Off Rule on Recording Public Meetings

schuylkill county recording public meetings

schuylkill county recording public meetings

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

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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:

pennsylvania sunshine act recording devices

It reads as follows:

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“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.

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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.

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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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  1. Coalregion12

    October 26, 2020 at 7:46 am

    Did you get the feeling that person(s) responsible for putting Boots in thru the Republican Party are now regretting it?
    Also, it is pretty evident that someone is pulling the strings here besides Boots, the question is who?

    • Rob

      October 26, 2020 at 3:10 pm

      Nah. He’s childishly passing the blame to no one to avoid prosecution and the consequences for violating citizens rights. They’ve been spanked for being incompetent. Of course the red-handed kid is going to say “wasn’t me! Dunno who…”

  2. Rob

    October 26, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    I was hoping my previous comment would influence this, I assume maybe it did. They cannot legally prohibit the meetings being recorded unless recording it is disruptive. These officials are supposed to know the laws. It’s their job to know! Incompetence is grounds for termination and that is exactly what, saddly, most of these people are exposing themselves to be. It’s a good feeling that it feels like we’re finally giving these political agencies the enema they have needed for too long!

    They don’t have a choice. It’s not their option to allow or decline or even limit recordings. It’s allowed, period. They cannot stop it. Their only option is to do their job(s) as WE tell them to.
    Welcone to America, elected commissioners.
    Remember: You’re elected. We can vote for someone else. And we will.

    • Canary Commenter

      October 26, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      These meetings wouldn’t be such a circus if the Commissioners wouldn’t make such clownish decisions. They set up the tent to the circus, we’re just the paying customers.

      • insider

        October 27, 2020 at 9:59 am

        Clown show…Boots”the ruling on the recordings wasn’t my idea”…simple math..There are 3 commissioners. It wasn’t Boots,it certainly wasn’t Gary,that leaves…duh…protect the buddy!

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