NJ FOG – Lift Award
This story was picked up by the Associated Press.
“To them (local governments), ignorance is bliss and job security”
See PhillyBurbs.com for the whole story.
As published previously, this week is Sunshine Week 2008, promoting open government.
Part of today’s event is the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government presenting the Lift Award, which is given to those that fight for their right for government transparency.
Oddly enough, some people in Hoboken still don’t believe taping should be allowed, as mentioned in this article from the current Hoboken reporter. “Once again, we find that we’re being videotaped,” said Commissioner Perry Belfiore, who said that he asked Mason in the past if she would refrain from taping the meetings. Belfiore complained that the footage was sometimes “Springer-esque.” “Think back to the last meeting, with that person standing there crying, in tears,” said Belfiore, “What is this, a soap opera?” Belfiore further explained: “My fear is that it’s going to extinguish conversation between our tenants and this board in a public forum.” Commissioner Dominic Lisa actually threatened to resign from the board if the residents become fearful of speaking at the meetings because someone is filming them.
Hopefully, this doesn’t turn into another money-wasting lawsuit the city would gladly enjoy being part of.
Videotaping Citizen honored in Trenton
Wayne Tarus of Berlin, New Jersey will be honored today for his civic activism and his willingness to put himself on the line to ensure that citizens have a common law right to video tape public meetings. Wayne was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for videotaping two Pine Hill Borough Council meetings in 2000. He then filed a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful arrested and followed it through all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that cameras today are like the quill pens used hundreds of years ago to chronicle the actions of government, and New Jersey residents have a common-law right to use them to record public meetings. While it said governmental agencies can impose “reasonable guidelines” to make sure the recording does not disrupt their official business.
The justices found the Pine Hill mayor was “arbitrary and unreasonable” in ordering the police chief to arrest Wayne — a longtime critic of the mayor and council –because the borough had never adopted formal guidelines for videotaping public meetings.
“For any town that wants to rule with an iron fist, this puts them all on notice they can no longer do that and reaffirms the protection for every resident in the state of New Jersey,” Wayne was quoted as having said in a Star-Ledger article. “Knowledge is power and any time anyone wants to cut the flow of information or squeeze it, it should be looked at.”
Chief Justice James Zazzali, writing for the court, said the court’s decision should encourage “citizens of a democracy to be more engaged, rather than less,” in part from an “understanding that openness reduces public corruption.”
“Openness is a hallmark of democracy — a sacred maxim of our government — and video is but a modern instrument in that evolving pursuit,” Zazzali wrote. “The use of modern technology to record and review the activities of public bodies should marshal pride in our open system of government, not muster suspicion against citizens who conduct the recording.”