Scrutiny Part Of the Position
Torrance County Commissioner Lonnie Freyburger is not the first elected official to feel like his words are being taken out of context and being used against him; and he won't be the last.
He also isn't the first elected official to attempt to control access to government processes, and he, unfortunately, will not be the last.
Last week, Freyburger introduced a resolution to the County Commission saying that, if passed, "the public is strictly prohibited from operating audio and/or visual recording devices within the Commission Chambers."
Freyburger, it seems, is upset at the way county resident Edwina "George" Hewett records commission meetings and posts them online. The editing, he says, is incomplete and inaccurate. He's all for the county recording the meetings itself and posting those recordings on the county's website.
Freyburger is half right — it is a good idea to record the meetings and post them on the website. However, saying that the county is the only entity allowed to record — with a possible exception for journalists, however that may be defined — flies in the face of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the state's Open Meetings Act.
Even fifth-grade civics students know elected officials don't get to decide which of their words sees the light of day. The County Commission, however, feels the need to get the opinion of its attorney first to see if the resolution is OK. Commissioners voted to table the resolution, which in itself is a bit frightening. Why not just oppose it outright? It's as if commissioners hope a loophole might be found that would allow them to violate the rights of the people.
More than likely, the county's attorney will tell commissioners to check themselves, and, in so many words, to accept that Hewett and anybody else who wants to record commission meetings has the right to do so. If that advice is ignored, the county can expect opposition to this ridiculous resolution and most likely end up in court, where the county will lose.
It isn't easy being an elected official; the scrutiny can be overbearing and at times it seems like the only thing people focus upon is the negative. But that is part of the job. To quote Harry S. Truman, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
Otherwise, don't mess with our rights.