The Little Rock Civil Service Commission has begun hearing an appeal from Charles Starks, the former Little Rock Police officer who was fired after he fatally shot Bradley Blackshire during a traffic stop in February. Starks is seeking to be reinstated on the force.
The civil service commission approved a new regulation Tuesday that allows the commission’s chairman, at his discretion, to ban the use of photo, video and audio recording devices during public hearings.
Today, the commission asserted that new policy and kicked out all press with recording devices before the meeting began. Marine Glisovic, a reporter with KATV, tweeted that she stood up before the meeting began to formally object to the regulation.
I’m no lawyer, but it seems pretty cut and dried that the commission is in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act law. The General Assembly amended it this year to require that all “officially scheduled, special, and called open public meetings … be recorded in a manner that allows for the capture of sound.”
UPDATE: A friend, who actually is a lawyer, notes that the above amendment is more about the public body being required to record and preserve the recording of its meetings, not about the public’s right to record. But I believe the regulation is still in clear violation of state FOIA law.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette interrogated the new regulation today. Here’s the lame justification Rick Hogan, deputy city attorney and commission attorney, gave:
“It’s always a public meeting and subject to access under the [Arkansas Freedom of Information Act],” Hogan said. “Anybody can access by being there. But when they act as judges, they take on that role of a judge and it puts a different hat on the meeting itself.”
But commissioners are decidedly not judges. They’re citizens appointed to a review body.
But beyond the legality, it’s always a bad idea to make policy directed at one or two people. In this case, though commissioners never mentioned his name, they were clearly wary of Russ Racop, the blogger beyond the Bad Government sites.
“We have a court reporter here that records everything factually,” commissioner Paula Gray Stitz said. “We’ve got a blogger sitting over there that’s going to put on there exactly what he wants it to say to bend whichever way he wants to bend it. I’m all for factual reporting of what’s going on here, but not what happens out there in the blog world.”
UPDATE II: KATV’s Glisovic says that Scott and City Attorney Tom Carpenter were discussing overturning the recording ban.
UPDATE III: City Attorney Tom Carpenter interrupted the hearing to recommend that the commission lift the recording ban. Cameras were allowed in the hearing this afternoon. The Times Brian Chilson and Rebekah Hall are onhand.