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Mayor stalls on airing public meeting tape

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Jamie Clary

For years, residents have been able to view city meetings on the local cable access channel. But a recent meeting hasn't yet been posted and citizen's reactions on the matter are mixed.

At the July 11 BOMA meeting during public comments, several residents made comments referencing specific individuals; both officials and private citizens, which is against city rules.

On Friday, Mayor Jamie Clary posted on his personal Facebook page saying he didn't believe the meeting should be aired since several "private" citizens were named and verbally attacked.

Clary's post reads, "During our last board of mayor and aldermen meeting, we had four situations where speakers singled out other individuals and verbally attacked them. That violates our rules, which I had emphasized before the speakers said what they did. They knew the rules and willingly broke them.

"This presents a very negative image of our city and is unfair to the people targeted. It has happened in the past, and it needs to be stopped. It would be wrong to broadcast those comments."

Clary goes on to write that city rules forbid any editing of the recorded meeting, but says those rules do not require the meetings to be broadcast; only to be made available to citizens through open records requests.

"My concern is how videos like this one impact our image, thus our property values, ability to attract more jobs, and many other aspects of our exceptional city," he wrote, asking afterward for public comments on his decision.

Reaction was mixed

Resident James Barnett responded to Clary's request and supported him writing, "I think not posting them is fine. The ppl (people) who are complaining that you're withholding the tapes (have) obviously never filled out a request for public information act form. There's no requirement that the videos be posted. They just have to be part of the official record and available upon written request. It's not called censorship if it's available upon written request at the city hall."

Resident Jill Rogers Rathert also supported the mayor's decision writing, "We should all show respect to each other and conduct ourselves with pride and dignity when addressing someone at the BOMA or attending a BOMA meeting. Well said Jamie!"

Not everyone agreed however.

Retired Hendersonville physician and former city alderman, Jim Carmack discouraged Clary from not posting the meeting writing, "It could be construed as censorship and withholding public information. You probably don't want to start that conversation. It's one of the reasons a lot of folks don't trust government. I really hate the word "transparency" these days because it has come to mean nothing. But I would think you, of all people, would not deviate from it."

Resident and local realtor Hildia McDonald also disagreed with Clary writing, ''I think you are putting too much emphasis on "personal attack." Meetings should be according to Roberts Rules of Order. Censoring or not posting in my opinion (is) worse than letting the citizens see, listen, and understand problems the City is dealing with. We're intelligent enough to make decision and form conclusions."

On Tuesday Clary said he was still undecided about airing the meeting and hoped to gain more input, adding he would likely form a committee to look into it.

Alderman Scott Sprouse also on Tuesday said he had not actually viewed the comments since Clary had previously blocked him from seeing any posts on his Facebook page, but said he had been made aware of the intent to not air the public meeting.

"I do not like what was said and I believe the situation in the meeting could have been handled better when it occurred and re-occurred, but it happened in a public meeting and the public has a right for the records to be released as normal," Sprouse said.

Deborah Fisher, director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government said it was up to the board to hold orderly meetings and said she hopes Clary will choose to air the meeting.

"A board can set reasonable rules around public comments so as to maintain an orderly and safe meeting," she said. "And I would hope that people who want to make their points in a public meeting could do so within reasonable rules.

"I do think it's unfortunate if the city stops airing their board meetings on the cable access channel and hope the mayor reconsiders. The shows can be a way for people to know what their government is doing."

Committee to review matter

At the Tuesday BOMA meeting, city leaders voted to send the matter of airing or not airing the July 11 meeting to the General Committee for consideration. For now, it cannot be viewed on the public access channel.

Following that vote, Alderman Matt Stamper posted the video on his own personal Facebook page. The meeting can be accessed at: Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmT8nGK4bEI&feature=share. Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHd1-W2biQM&feature=share.

Stamper also livestreamed Tuesday night's meeting on his Facebook page.

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