Nydia Tisdale settles lawsuit against Cumming Mayor Gravitt

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Nydia Tisdale
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Nydia Tisdale settles lawsuit against Cumming Mayor Gravitt

Post by Nydia Tisdale » March 17th, 2015, 8:00 am

Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale banned from filming Cumming City Council meeting settles Federal Lawsuit

Nydia Tisdale, AboutForsyth.com, 404.316.8888 @NydiaTisdale
Gerry Weber, Law Offices of Gerry Weber, LLC 404.932.5845 @wgerryweber
United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
GAINESVILLE, GEORGIA
March 17, 2015

On the eve of trial, Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale settled her longstanding federal lawsuit asserting the right to film public meetings for $200,000 along with an audio-visual recording policy that ensures filming of Cumming City Council meetings.

Tisdale covers public meetings of public interest armed with a video camera with “an eye that never blinks” to produce “Nydeos” to publish on her website AboutForsyth.com and on social media to engage citizens with the goings-on of their local government. Since starting in 2011, almost 700 Nydeos have had 178,862 views. Her unfiltered and unembedded work is reader- and viewer-supported, and her website has a PayPal donate button.

On April 17, 2012, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law an updated version of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws to take effect immediately upon signature. Video recording of open-and-public meetings was allowed in the old law and in the new law.

Hours later the same day, Tisdale attempted to video record the Cumming City Council meeting where discussion of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Forsyth County and the City of Cumming for raw and finished water was taking place. The city holds the permit to withdraw water from Lake Lanier and the county purchases water from the city. The 30-year contract was about to expire.

Tisdale had previously filmed Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and the Cumming City Council across the street at the Forsyth County Administration Building at open-and-public meetings. But, the very first time she set foot inside Cumming City Hall, she was tossed out for carrying her camera into council chambers.

Tisdale situated her tripod, mounted her video camera atop and began filming moments before the meeting. The Mayor called the meeting to order and then said, “First of all, a little house cleaning. Uh, Chief Tatum, if you would, remove the camera from — from the auditorium. We don’t allow filming inside of the city hall here unless it’s specific reasons, so if you would remove the camera.”

“Respectfully, Mayor ... I am exercising my right as a citizen to record this meeting,” Tisdale asserted her right to film.

Mayor Gravitt told Tisdale, “It’s not for discussion,” and again ordered Police Chief Casey Tatum to remove the camera.

Two armed police officers — Chief Tatum and Deputy Chief Walter “Clyde” Cook — grabbed both of her arms and her tripod with her Sony camcorder attached. “Sir! This is an open and public meeting! I have a right by Georgia law to film this meeting!” protested Tisdale.

Georgia Sunshine Law [O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1.] Open and Public Meetings Act reads, “The public at all times shall be afforded access to meetings declared open to the public. Visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted.”

Tisdale had also previously filmed City Attorney Dana B. Miles in open-and-public county meetings. Thus, she implored the Mayor to confirm her claims, “Ask Dana Miles. Ask your counsel. Ask Dana Miles.” However, her cries fell on deaf ears as counsel Miles sat silent whilst Tisdale’s rights were being violated.

“Take your hands off of me! Take your hands off of me, sir!” Tisdale demanded while flanked by Tatum and Cook.

“Step outside. Step outside. Step outside. Step outside,” insisted Tatum.

“There will be a complaint filed with Georgia Attorney General, not allowing me to film this meeting,” announced Tisdale.

“Okay, go file your complaint,” taunted Tatum.

“This is illegal. You cannot close the meeting. I have a right by Georgia law and you should consult your counsel, Dana Miles. He is aware of Georgia state law,” Tisdale further informed the Mayor. Again, Miles remained still.

Outside chambers, Tisdale packed her video camera and tripod in the atrium area, regained her resolve and returned to council chambers. When she attempted again to record the meeting, now with her Olympus camera, she was again ordered to stop filming a second time.

The video can be seen here: Mayor Kicks Out Citizen and Camera. The transcript can be read here: City of Cumming Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt — HB 397.

Tisdale learned the hard way that “in Cumming City Hall, the Mayor is the law.” Mayor Gravitt was first elected in 1970 and has served ever since.

True to her word, an Open Meetings Act complaint with a Nydeo of the meeting was filed with Attorney General Sam Olens the same night.

On May 1, 2012, City Administrator Gerald Blackburn posted an Audio-Visual Recording Policy designating an area for tripods that was drafted by city attorneys, but not approved by council in open session.

Watch Fox 5 News interviews by Justin Gray here with Nydia Tisdale and Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

Via its Open Government Mediation Program, the AG tried to get the city to voluntarily pay a fine for violating Open Meetings Law thrice in a single meeting.

On May 22, 2012, the Mayor mocked the AG claiming he was calling “wantin’ to know if we’re havin’ an illegal meetin’,” during the very next city council meeting.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations, a lawsuit was filed: Attorney General Sam Olens v. Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, et al. No. 12-CV-1205 in Forsyth County Superior Court on June 5, 2012.

One week later, a second lawsuit was filed: Nydia Tisdale v. Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, et al. No. 2:12-CV-00145-RWS in Unites States District Court, Northern District of Georgia on June 12, 2012.

In 2013, during depositions of the Mayor and his long-term traveling friend Angela “Angie” Mullinax, both admitted that Mullinax — who is not a city employee — receives city health insurance.

In 2014, Councilman Rupert Sexton discovered, unbeknownst to the council, that Angie Mullinax and Dana Miles were on the city health plan. The Mayor threatened to impeach Councilman Sexton for allegedly divulging city employees’ ‪‎health insurance‬ information. The city sought guidance from the AG, but he declined given the investigation of possible public corruption.

In Jan. 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation subpoenaed health insurance and employment records for Mullinax and Miles. The FBI has also requested records regarding official travel expenses and the Carolyn Gravitt Memorial Scholarship Fund created to honor the Mayor’s late wife.

In three separate, yet similar camera incidents, Tisdale was told to stop filming:

On February 8, 2014, Roswell City Manager Kay Love and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Diamond requested Tisdale to turn off her video camera when a quorum was lost during an open-and-public-City-Council-work-session which was renamed a closed-staff-meeting-with-the-public-permitted-to-attend. Tisdale complied, but complained to the Attorney General about the schizophrenic open/closed meeting. Click here to watch the WSB-TV interview with Mike Petchenik.

On April 16, 2014, three members of the Republican Woman of Forsyth County — Peggy Green, Carolyn Hall Fisher and Carla Radzikinas — bullied Tisdale out of an advertised, open-to-the-public campaign meet-and-greet. Green struck Tisdale’s arm and seized her camera. Tisdale filed a complaint the following day with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. An application for Green’s arrest for simply battery/assault is pending in Magistrate Court. Click here to watch the WSB-TV report by Wendy Corona.

On August 21, 2014, Senior Superior Court Judge Robert W. Adamson ruled in favor of Attorney General Sam Olens and ordered defendants to pay $12,000 in penalties plus attorneys’ fees which is well over six figures. The Mayor has appealed the decision claiming sovereign immunity.

On August 23, 2014, AG Sam Olens shared the good news with Tisdale at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville during a rally. Tisdale was later arrested for filming political speech at an advertised, open-to-the-public, campaign event. Charges of criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer are still pending. Watch her interview on live, national television here: MSNBC - The Ed Show with Ed Shultz.

On September 30, 2014, Federal Judge Richard W. Story held that Tisdale’s case should go to trial.

On the heels of the Georgia Attorney General’s victory in a state lawsuit against the City of Cumming and Mayor H. Ford Gravitt for violations of Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, the citizen removed when filming a Cumming City Council Meeting has also prevailed in a 41-page order from a federal court allowing her constitutional claims to go to trial, “the Court agrees that Plaintiff has a First Amendment interest in filming public officials at a public meeting.”

One month shy of three years since the camera incident in Cumming City Hall, Tisdale settled her federal lawsuit which was headed to a jury trial for $200,000 inclusive of all penalties, damages, attorney’s fees and expenses.

“There is one often overlooked rich reward for successful settlement or mediation and that is a single word called finality,” Senior Superior Court Judge Robert W. Adamson pitched his spiel on mediation in the case of Attorney General Sam Olens v. City of Cumming and Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

“Finality is what you get when you know it’s all over. There are no more expenses. There are no more attorneys’ fees. There are no more sleepless nights. There are no more issues to worry with and finality can only be accomplished by you in agreement.

“So, I wish you the best in finality,” Judge Adamson closed.

“I am relieved that this protracted lawsuit has finally settled,” Tisdale stated. “I have reached finality.”

An ardent Sunshine proponent, Tisdale would never agree to confidentiality of the settlement which was filed with the court along with the dismissal. Despite attempts by defendants’ attorneys to squash publishing the terms of the settlement, Tisdale fought for transparency.

“Citizens have a right to know what their government is doing,” Tisdale persisted. “I am pleased that the clandestine, shadow government that has controlled the City of Cumming and, indirectly, Forsyth County for over forty years has come under scrutiny by the Feds.”

Tisdale has become a denizen of City of Cumming meetings. Every third Tuesday of the month, the planning and zoning board meets at 5:00 p.m. and the city council meets at 6:00 p.m. Tisdale will be there tonight, wielding her camera.

“This settlement sends a powerful message that government officials cannot shroud their operations in secrecy by barring truth-telling video,” said Gerry Weber, Lead Counsel for Tisdale. “But more, the lawsuit has unveiled decades-old practices of an entrenched City government that has left its citizens in the dark. The Mayor’s actions were a blatant violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to record public meetings.”

Attorneys for Plaintiff Nydia Tisdale include Gerald R. Weber, Hollie G. Manheimer, Michael A. Caplan and Timothy Brandon Waddell of Caplan Cobb, LLC.

Attorneys for Defendants — City of Cumming, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, Police Chief Casey Tatum and Deputy Chief Walter Cook — include: Dana Brent Miles, Dana Kristin Maine, Kathleen Sullivan Dod and Kevin James Tallant.

Records filed March 16, 2015 with the court for Case 2:12-CV-00145-RWS follow:

TISDALE v. GRAVITT - STIPULATION OF CONSENT DISMISSAL PURSUANT TO SETTLEMENT

TISDALE v. GRAVITT - GENERAL RELEASE

TISDALE v. GRAVITT - CITY OF CUMMING AUDIO-VISUAL RECORDING POLICY

Tags: #CummingGa #ForsythCo #ForsythCounty #ForsythCountyGa #Dawsonville #Ga #DawsonCounty #DawsonCountyGa #PumpkinGate #Journalism #CitizenJournalism #JournalismIsNotACrime #PhotographyIsNotACrime #PINAC #RightToRecord #FreeSpeech #FreePress #PressFreedom #SunshineWeek #OpenGovernment #OpenGov #CivilRights #FirstAmendment #1A #gagop #gagov #gapol

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Nydia Tisdale
Posts: 5945
Joined: August 23rd, 2010, 12:00 pm
Location: Roswell, GA
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Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum grabs Nydia Tisdale

Post by Nydia Tisdale » March 17th, 2015, 10:00 am

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City of Cumming Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt [pronounced GRAVE-it] orders the camera to be removed from the auditorium during a city council meeting on April 17, 2012. Nydeo still by Nydia Tisdale.

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Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale explains that she has the right by Georgia Sunshine Law to video record the Cumming City Council meeting on April 17, 2012. Photo by Aldo Nahed, Forsyth Herald.

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City of Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum takes control of Nydia Tisdale’s tripod and video camera during a city council meeting on April 17, 2012. Photo by Aldo Nahed, Forsyth Herald.

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City of Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum forcibly removes Nydia Tisdale and her camera during a city council meeting on April 17, 2012. Photo by Aldo Nahed, Forsyth Herald.

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Relentless
Posts: 192
Joined: August 15th, 2008, 10:53 pm

Victory for the citizens of the United States, Georgia

Post by Relentless » March 17th, 2015, 10:56 am

Sometimes the folks in the white hats win the big one! And yes folks, this is a big deal.

This is an important and precedent-setting victory for citizens of The United States, Georgia, and local residents in confirming our right to an open and transparent government. Those that have castigated Nydia Tisdale over the years should be ashamed. Our country and its valiant soldiers have fought wars to garner the right to an open and transparent government for our citizens. And, those organizations (including but not limited to the Forsyth County Republican Party, City of Cumming, Dawson County Sheriff's Office, Burt's Pumpkin Farm) and individuals ignorant of this fundamental right of all U.S. Citizens should be scorned as traitors to our country and its ideals.

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