Montgomery County commissioners have voted to ban members of the public from livestreaming their meetings, and this could have a chilling effect across Tennessee.
A chilling effect in the sense that other county governments might pass similar laws, said County Commissioner Jason Knight, one of the few elected officials who opposed this idea.
“This puts the county at risk of a lawsuit,” Knight told The Tennessee Star Wednesday.
“I can see the average citizens’ rights being infringed upon by counties that are attempting to hide or attempting to control government information to the community by this particular rule that has been set. That means it could become an epidemic throughout the entire state of Tennessee.”
According to The Associated Press, under the commissioners’ resolution, only news professionals can livestream county commission meetings — and only with county government officials’ prior approval.
“The vote was preceded by nearly an hour of debate over freedom of speech versus security concerns. A commission committee said live streaming could expose the county to security risks at a time when some are nervous about safety in public gatherings,” according to The AP.
“It also noted that officials sometimes discuss controversial topics. The county says it provides YouTube recordings of its meetings, though not in real time.”
The Star emailed all 21 county commissioners Wednesday and asked what consequences county officials will impose on anyone who is not a news professional and live streams, regardless.
Only Knight, in a phone call, would answer the question — to the best of his ability.
“The resolution doesn’t even state what the consequences are,” Knight said.
“They just put together a haphazard document that doesn’t outline anything.”
County Commissioner Tangi Smith, in an email, said she voted for the resolution.
“For me, if our sheriff deems it a security issue then I support it 100 percent as I respect law enforcement and value what they say. As for transparency, how can we be anti- transparent when the meetings are open to anyone?” Smith said.
“As a 20 plus year veteran it breaks my heart that anyone would assume that I don’t respect our great Constitution. Even as a retiree, I am still sacrificing for Montgomery County by remaining from my active duty husband who is stationed in Hawaii.”
Commissioner Joshua Beal told The Star in an email he, like Knight, opposed the resolution.
“Citizens in general have a distrust in our local elected officials, and this resolution does nothing to better that relationship. In fact, this has made it A LOT worse,” Beal wrote.
“I have nothing but respect for our sheriff (as I do for all my fellow elected officials) and I trust his judgment when he says this is a security concern. My problem, however, is that I have yet to be briefed on our security protocol. Because of this, I do not know what the actual security issues are.”
Beal said elected officials must understand they are “in the public eye.”
“If we were really concerned about security, our individual contact information wouldn’t be public record and easily accessible to the public,” Beal said.
“In addition, many of those ‘concerned with security’ are the same ones consistently advertising their businesses on social media, constantly ‘checking in’ wherever they go, and continuously posting ‘photo ops’ depending on who they are with. Security is security… point blank.”
None of the other commissioners returned our requests for comment before Wednesday’s stated deadline.
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