ROOT -- During a meeting where Root town residents called for the resignation of a town clerk who refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, the Town Board violated state law.
Television crews were prohibited from recording the board’s monthly meeting Wednesday night, and Town Supervisor Gary Kamp extended that ban to other audio and video recordings, even suggesting the use of all electronic devices was prohibited.
“No tapes, no cellphones, no social media,” Kamp said to open the meeting. He also promised to kick out anyone caught trying to make a recording on their phones.
The state’s open meetings law, however, plainly requires public bodies like Town Boards to allow photography and recordings at all public meetings.
“Any meeting of a public body that is open to the public shall be open to being photographed, broadcast, webcast or otherwise recorded … by audio or video means,” states the open meetings law.
Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the state Committee on Open Government, said Thursday the recording prohibition in Root appeared to be a “fairly clear-cut” violation of the law.
“You can establish reasonable rules, but you can’t have such a blanket rule -- no recording whatsoever. That would be clearly inconsistent with the open meetings laws.”
State law allows a public body to set rules about where recording equipment can be positioned, “so as to conduct its proceedings in an orderly manner.” Those rules must be posted during meetings.
O’Neill said public bodies have leeway to set the parameters of where in a meeting room media or other people with recording equipment must stay, but they cannot outright prohibit such recording.
“I can’t think of any circumstance where a public body could prohibit, entirely, recording the public portion of the meeting,” she said.
During the meeting, about a dozen people addressed the board during public comment. Most of the speakers supported the couple who tried to get a marriage license from Town Clerk Sherrie Eriksen.
The couple has said Eriksen told them she did not sign off on same-sex marriage licenses, and that they should schedule an appointment with her deputy when they came in for a marriage license in July. The couple and their supporters at the meeting called on Eriksen to resign; if she doesn’t, they want the Town Board to remove her.
During the meeting, the recording prohibition came to the fore twice. At one point, a resident stood up and pointed out a television reporter who had been taking notes on her phone, suggesting she had violated the rules. Town officials did not press the matter further. Kamp raised the prohibition again when a different speaker pulled out a phone to read notes from. The speaker said she was reading notes.
“It’s the 21st century,” she said.
After the meeting, Kamp refused to answers questions about the prohibition. He did not return multiple calls for comment Thursday, and none of the four Town Board members - Nick Cuomo, LuEmma Quackenbush, John VanKersen and John Thayer - returned messages seeking comment Thursday.
Town attorney Robert Subik, who was not present for Wednesday’s meeting, also did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
It was not clear if a sign posted on the front entrance of the meeting room that listed “prohibited” actions, including “photographing, video taping, electronic devices, cellphone use,” was posted just for the meeting or applies to the room’s other use as the Town Court.