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City draws scrutiny over decision
Video camera wasn't allowed at meeting
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Forsyth County News

A Roswell woman has complained to the Georgia Attorney Generals Office in the wake of an incident this week during a Cumming City Council meeting.

Lauren Cane, communications director with the state office, confirmed it has opened a file on the matter after Nydia Tisdale submitted video footage of the situation.

Were sending a letter today to the city attorney to get their side of the story, Cane said Thursday morning.

City Attorney Dana Miles, who was at the meeting Tuesday night, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Tisdale did not return messages seeking comment on the matter.

The incident unfolded Tuesday night at City Hall.

Tisdale, a local activist who has taken videos during many public meetings throughout Forsyth County over the past few months, had set up a video recorder on a tripod in the back of the council chambers.

After calling the meeting to order, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt asked Police Chief Casey Tatum to remove the camera.

Tisdale said that under Georgia law she had the right to record the meeting, however, Gravitt said such video recordings were not allowed.

Tisdale and her camera were then escorted into the hallway by Tatum for a few moments before she returned to the meeting.

Tatum could not be reached Thursday, but Gravitt said he believes his action were within the bounds of state law.

We go by what the state law says and we think the state law upholds what we do, he said. The law says that it is permissible for videos, tape recorders, still pictures, whatever during public meetings.

It doesnt say youre required or you must do it. So its been our position that we dont want to interrupt our meeting by having tripods and [video] cameras.

Gravitt noted that city council meetings can sometimes draw as many as 75 or 100 people.

What if everybody wanted to have a tripod and a camera there? he said. I mean, you know, its just a safety issue and its disruptive of the meeting.

Cane said the Attorney Generals Office will conduct a preliminary investigation into the incident.

[Tisdale] sent us a copy of the video by viewing the video we are reaching out to the city attorney, she said. They will respond with their side of the story and well evaluate that and figure if theres been a violation.

Cane said local governments are not allowed to override state open records law.

In our view, the law clearly permits video and sound recordings in public meetings, she said.

According to Cane, if the city is found to be in violation of the open meetings law, it could face a fine up to $1,000 and possible criminal and civil action.

She said the states new open meetings law, which Gov. Nathan Deal signed Tuesday, increased the maximum fine allowable from $500 to $1,000, and allowed for civil action.

The burden of proof for criminal action is very high the option to bring civil charges is much easier to prove, she said.