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Mayor turns off activist's camera at city of Cumming meeting

Attorney General Olens opens violation inquiry

City of Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum removes Nydia Tisdale and her camera from the city of Cumming meeting April 17. (click for larger version)


Nydia Tisdale's video courtesy of AboutForsyth.

April 18, 2012
CUMMING, Ga. — For months, activist Nydia Tisdale has recorded pretty much every meeting in Forsyth County — from yawners like the finance committee meetings to lively town hall meetings, sheriff's and commissioners' election debates.

On Tuesday, April 17, her video camera was turned off, but not by Tisdale.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt told Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum to stop Tisdale from recording their April 17 meeting.

"We don't allow filming inside of the city hall," Gravitt said. "Unless there's a specific reason."

The incident is captured on Tisdale's camera and is fast becoming her most watched video on her YouTube channel.

As Tisdale and her camcorder are being escorted out of city hall chambers by police, she's heard asking city attorney Dana Miles to step in, but he remains silent on the issue.

Miles did not return a request for comments for this article.

"I'm exercising my right as a citizen to record an open and public meeting," Tisdale said.

But Gravitt stood his ground.

"It's not up for discussion," Gravitt said.

What's at issue is whether Gravitt has the authority to shut off someone's video camera at a public meeting. Several judges choose to keep cameras out of the courtroom, but is the mayor the same as a judge?

According to Georgia House Bill 397, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal coincidentally on April 17, "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."

Hollie Manheimer, executive director for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said the new and old version of the open meetings act permit camcorders at public meetings.

"Both the former version of the open meetings act, as well as the new law that was signed into law on April 17, permit citizens to videotape city council meetings and do any other type of taping, such as audio taping," Manheimer said.

Gravitt does permit photo cameras and audio recordings, and the city council meetings are video recorded by city staff, said Steve Bennett, assistant city manager.

The videos recorded by the city staff are available public record.

Tisdale, a Roswell resident, videographer and blogger for controversial site AboutForsyth, said she will file a complaint with state Attorney General Sam Olens and may further file a civil action against the city.

"A formal complaint has been filed," she told the Forsyth Herald the following day.

Tisdale did watch the rest of the meeting and even took pictures and audio recording.

Olens said he watched Tisdale's video and his office is sending a letter to the city of Cumming attorney. Olens said Tisdale was within her rights to take video of the meeting.

"The first thing we do when we open a file is send a letter requesting information from the governmental entity," Olens said, "if they seek to provide an answer to the allegation."

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Tags: Government & News & Crime

  1. report print email
    What, no Fulton County watchers?
    April 22, 2012 | 10:13 PM

    Apparently Ms. Tisdell has a real beef with Forsyth County for some reason. Maybe it's because she got burned by a public figure there. Maybe it's because she's just a feminist activist and Forsyth County is still too "old white male" for her liking. Who knows.

    But if this woman REALLY wanted to go after corruption and greed and cronyism, she'd investigate her own Fulton County as a Roswell resident. With her energy and apparent time on her hands, she could really be put to good use and investigate the cronyism in Washington DC from the White House on down. But that might involve liberal Democrat investigations, which she apparently steers clear of.

    Must be nice to have so much time on one's hands when most of us are struggling to either find a job or keep the one we currently have.

  2. report print email
    No Residency Requirement in the Law
    April 23, 2012 | 09:30 PM

    So, Jason, are you saying that if Nydia was a Forsyth resident, only then would it be illegal for the mayor to do what he did? This is the same kind of garbage argument that a certain County Commissioner has tried to use against Nydia several times. The problem is, there is no residency requirement for ANYONE to attend, comment during, or record any public meeting in the State of Georgia. Better get over it!

    Hal Schneider
  3. report print email
    Re-read my post, Hal..
    April 24, 2012 | 11:35 PM

    I'm not arguing her right to spend all her energy in Forsyth County, braniac. I'm wondering WHY she is spending so much time there when there is blatant and wonton WAY more corruption, incompetence, and cronyism in FULTON COUNTY.

    And if you don't like my freedom to say that, which it appears you do, you can GO POUND SAND.

  4. report print email
    Never hide if you're elected
    April 25, 2012 | 01:12 AM

    Nydia Tisdale isnt under the microscope here. She could be anyone. Except "all of us" aren't concerned enough with local government to even notice when things go sour. When an elected official says "no recordings", it shouldn't matter who you are or what you stand for, the response should be "why?". When citizens are not allowed to even ask why, we have much more of an intrinsic problem than singling out a female activist watchdog.

  5. report print email
    It's time to insist on open and transparent government
    April 25, 2012 | 10:43 PM

    From 2001 to 2008,the American public lost more civil rights than ever before in history primarily in the name of National security and the Patriots Act. It is ludacris for Americans to be locked up and not charged with something. It's time to clean up closed door, good ole boy politics. No more secret meetings and agreements. The citizens have a right to know all government business, they as taxpayers are the boss. We hire this politicians to act on our behalf and we have every right to know what's being done in our name. I thought Ms. Tisdale does have a job, a reporter for AboutForsyth. She does us all a great public service. Most citizens can not attend local government meetings and it is a service to see uncensored documentation. When the law is broken against anyone of us, we are all in danger.

    Be very afraid
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