DATED: June 13, 2012
CONTACT: Gerry Weber, Law Offices of Gerry Weber, LLC 404.932.5845
On the heels of the Georgia Attorney General’s 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 filed her own lawsuit alleging violations of the United States Constitution and state law.
On April 17, 2012, blogger Nydia Tisdale sought to videotape a meeting of the Cumming City Council. As she began filming, the Mayor ordered the recording to stop: “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.” Tisdale attempted to assert her right to film stating “Respectfully Mayor ...” and explained that Georgia law permitted videotaping of meetings. She also requested that the City Attorney in attendance, Dana B. Miles, be consulted. In response, Mayor Gravitt again ordered the Chief of Police to remove the camera. Police Chief Casey Tatum then approached and, along with Deputy Chief Walter “Clyde” Cook, forcibly removed Tisdale and her Sony camcorder from the meeting by grabbing her arms and tripod. Tisdale implored Chief Tatum and Deputy Chief Cook to “Take your hands off of me!”, but the armed officers did not. Chief Tatum told Tisdale to “Step outside.” After being forcibly removed from the meeting, Tisdale was eventually allowed to return. When she attempted to again record the meeting, now with her Olympus camera, she was again ordered to stop filming. The video can be seen at:
“The Mayor’s actions were a blatant violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to record public meetings,” said Gerry Weber, Attorney for Nydia Tisdale. “What’s more, as the Attorney General’s lawsuit emphasizes, the Georgia’s Open Meetings Act also ensures a citizen’s right to attend and record public meetings. Citizens should be encouraged to attend and participate in government, not dragged out for documenting what is going on.”
Attorney General Sam Olens said Saturday to the Republican Party in the historic Cumming School House that he was “personally offended” by the city’s initial response. Nydia Tisdale agreed, “I was also personally offended when Mayor Gravitt instructed Police Chief Tatum to do some ‘housecleaning’ and remove my camera without even addressing me — as if I were debris to be discarded from council chambers. It’s disturbing that no one dared to challenge the Mayor of 42 years inside City Hall. I am pleased the Attorney General is taking this matter very seriously. I take a stand not only for myself, but for all citizens who have a right to know about their government.”
The lawsuit seeks an order protecting the rights of citizens to attend and record Cumming City Council meetings, damages, and civil penalties under Georgia’s Open Meetings Act.
Copies of Georgia’s and Tisdale’s lawsuits are available at AboutForsyth.com.