Friday, November 04, 2011
Lauer: Video Devices "Absolutely" Permitted at Council Meetings
For well over a year, whenever Ron Angle speaks during a Northampton County Council meeting, he is subjected to heckles and catcalls. Jack D'Alessandro and Mary Ann Schmoyer, who proudly sport "Gracedale Goon" buttons, are the usual offenders. If someone dares offer a view about Gracedale that's different from theirs, that person is taunted, too.
Two weeks ago, as Ron Angle spoke about the Chrin TIF, the usual torments began. When I turned to film this disruptive behavior, Jack D'Alessandro actually attacked me.
I thought posting this latest example of disruptive behavior might shame D'Alessandro and other Scott Parsons' supporters into displaying some of the civility they claim is absent in Angle.
Instead, an unsigned letter, dated October 28, was sent to County Council, complaining about me. The address on the envelope goes back to D'Alessandro, although the unsigned letter claims it's from "The Coalition of Alzheimer Family Members." I am charged with using my flip-cam (I have two of 'em) to "intimidate, disrupt, antagonize, annoy and harass" them. They add that, when D'Alessandro attacked me, I "was holding [my] camera up in front of Jack D'Alessandro's face so Jack could not see the proceedings."
Well, as the video they want silenced clearly reveals, D'Alessandro was actually two aisles behind me. It's pretty hard to shove a camera in anyone's face from that distance. The person I had intended to film was Mary Ann Schmoyer, their head heckler.
Acknowledging that Council has "no control over [my] blog," the unsigned letter states "you do have control over your Council chambers," and asks them to adopt rules to stop me. "Perhaps your legal council [sic] can advise you on this matter."
That's what happened at last night's meeting. Council Solicitor Phil Lauer told them that my use of a flipcam is "absolutely permitted, and cannot be restricted."
Under Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law, a member of the public has "the right to use recording devices to record all the proceedings."
If I am banned from filming their antics, how long would it be before TV cameras were banned as well? How long would it be before someone was prohibited from even writing about meetings in a way that annoys or antagonizes others? And who decides that the conduct constitutes harassment? It's a slippery slope.
I like the way one Pennsylvania judge put things in the right perspective. "True, a tape may be misused, but that fact, one in common with every other communication device since the alphabet, must not result in restricting its use. The freedom to misuse is the price of an open society, a small price indeed."
It appears to me that the Coalition of Alzheimer Families, who sometimes call themselves "We the People" or "Gracedale Guardians," have no desire for an open society. They shout down anyone who disagrees with them, and their enemies' list grows by the day. They want their message, and only their message, heard. And although they pretend to want "civility," their real message is one of hate.