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Meeting ends in fracas after panel votes to ban video equipment

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PENNSYLVANIA -- A mid-September meeting of the Fayette County Housing Authority in Uniontown ended in turmoil after the board voted…

PENNSYLVANIA — A mid-September meeting of the Fayette County Housing Authority in Uniontown ended in turmoil after the board voted to prohibit the use of video equipment during its meetings.

After the authority unanimously adopted the policy, it adjourned for five minutes to allow the removal of all videocameras. However, a video crew from the Uniontown Herald-Standard refused to leave, citing its right to videotape under the state’s Right To Know Law.

As the camera continued to roll, three people attempted to block it by standing directly in front of it. A citizen in the audience, carrying a chair across the room for the camera operator to stand on, collided with two of the three people in front of the camera. Some members of the audience said the citizen appeared to be tripped or pushed into the group while others contended he shoved his way through the crowd. The incident started a shouting match that forced the board to adjourn the meeting. State police cited the person carrying the chair with two counts of harassment and two counts of stalking.

In defending its policy, the board cited the state’s Sunshine Act, which permits persons attending public meetings to record them. The board contended that it allows audio recordings of its meetings, and that the act did not specify what sort of recording devices should be used. The authority also said this measure would minimize disruptions during board meetings.

The authority approved other new policies limiting public comments and inspection of public records.

The Fayette County Housing Authority has had citizens arrested for exercising their right to comment at public meetings in the past, according to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association. The authority blocked reporters from videotaping in May, well before this policy was developed.