Bay council makes worker stop ‘streaming’ at meeting
By Dwayne Bremer
Aug 16, 2016, 19:21
The Bay St. Louis City Council on Monday may have violated the state's open meetings act twice: Once when it discussed an item outside the meeting; and again when it ordered that a video recording of the meeting be turned off.
The council met Monday for a budget workshop.
Council President Lonnie Falgout and councilmen Mike Favre, Joey Boudin and Bobby Compretta were present at the start of the meeting, constituting a quorum.
According to state law, a workshop where a quorum is present constitutes a public meeting.
Prior to the meeting, city employee Jerry Beaugez had set up a recording tablet at the mayor's desk.
Apparently, Beaugez--who also oversees the city's social media accounts--had recorded two previous meetings and live-streamed the on the city's Facebook page.
Mayor Les Fillingame said Monday that Beaugez was acting under his direction to video and broadcast the meetings.
"This is part of our attempt to become more transparent," Fillingame said Tuesday. "Why should the public not be allowed to see what goes on at the meetings? Not everyone can attend the meetings. We are trying to be more transparent."
As the meeting began, however, Falgout ordered that Beaugez turn the camera off.
Falgout said the members of the council had discussed the matter "among ourselves" before the workshop began.
On Tuesday, Falgout qualified his remarks, stating that there was no special meeting beforehand.
"The comments were made by individual councilmen and not as a group," Falgout said. "All we were requesting was, how is this being done and we felt we should be informed."
Falgout said that he had discussed the recording matter with the mayor last week, but was unable to get clarification.
He said he did not feel Monday's meeting qualified as an "official meeting."
"This is not an official meeting, it is a workshop," Falgout said Monday. "Tomorrow is an official meeting. Mr. Mayor, you can put it on the agenda for tomorrow and we will be happy to discuss it."
One possible reason for the council's concern is that there have been accusations that Facebook comments were being edited or deleted to reflect only "pro-Fillingame posts."
Beaugez said anyone can see the comments on Facebook and they could not be edited or deleted. He said that the Facebook settings are set to not allow vulgarity, but the administrator cannot delete or edit a post.
Individuals, however, can delete their own personal posts, he said.
Beaugez also argued that the meeting was public and that other entities such as local media are allowed to record meetings.
In the past, media organizations such as the Sea Coast Echo, WLOX, WXXV, Slabbed.org, and the Sun Herald have all recorded video at city council meetings. Many individual residents also record meetings and later broadcast them on social media.
After arguing back and forth with Beaugez, Falgout ordered Police Chief Mike De Nardo to turn the camera off. Beaugez eventually turned the camera off, but not before further arguments.
Beaugez asked the council "what are you trying to hide?" a comment which apparently drew Favre's ire.
Favre stated that transparency is one of main goals and is something he takes very seriously.
"Don't come with that B.S.," Favre told Beaugez.
Boudin asked if Beaugez was recording the video while "on the clock."
"Are we paying $19 an hour for you to record meetings?" Boudin asked.
Fillingame then stepped in and said that Beaugez was recording the video under his instruction.
In Bay St. Louis, city employees work under the direction of the mayor, not the council.
Boudin said that since Beaugez was working for the city, then the city administration should have gotten permission to video the meeting.
The Sea Coast Echo then asked to address the council for a clarification of the ruling, but Falgout denied the Echo's request.
The law on recording public meetings appears to be concrete in allowing the video; however, it is unclear if the law applies to city employees recording it for use on a city's social media page.
According to an Attorney General's Opinion dated Feb. 9, 2007 city councils can place "reasonable limits" on videos of public meetings; however, a flat prohibition is not allowed. According to the opinion, as long as an individual is not disrupting the meeting, then taking pictures and/or video is allowed.
In a similar opinion in 2010, the Mississippi Ethics Commission also ruled that public meetings can be videotaped.
The opinion, James Cockrell versus the Board of Aldermen of Canton Mississippi, states that Cockrell was ordered to stop videotaping the meeting because the board "was disturbed by his presence and did not know who he was."
The city attorney for Canton was not present at the workshop, but later advised his board that Cockrell had the right to video the meetings.
In the opinion, the ethics commission stated that local governments have the right to create rules so that videotaping a meeting does not disrupt it, but prohibiting it is not allowed.
The Bay St. Louis City Council is currently without legal representation after its decision to let go long-time city attorney Donald Rafferty last month.
Beaugez's ten-minute recording of Monday's workshop was placed on the city's Facebook page.
By press time Tuesday it had more than 2,000 views. Several residents said Tuesday, that they plan to file a complaint with the ethics commission.
Falgout said Tuesday that he has received copies of previous ethics decisions on the matter and they will be "very helpful."