Mayor H. Ford Gravitt has sat on the Cumming City Council some 45 years, more than 40 of those years as mayor. That in itself is quite an endorsement from the residents of Cumming. He did not remain in office that long without acquiring considerable political acumen along with all that experience.
So it came as quite a surprise when he opened a city council meeting last week by calling for the removal of longtime political gadfly Nydia Tisdale’s video camera from council chambers.
Gravitt gave no explanation other than that Cumming did not allow cameras to film in chambers. He then ordered the chief of police to remove the offending video camera over the understandable objections of Tisdale.
There is a rather glaring problem with that action. It directly contravenes the state of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws which state in clear unequivocal language that open government meetings will indeed allow filming of the proceedings.
Now, the mayor may be used to having his own way on council after serving so long in office, but that does not mean he has been conferred some extralegal powers to order Tisdale or her camera out of a public meeting.
It was not a propitious time for Gravitt to call attention to the Sunshine Laws in such dramatic fashion since that very day Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill that strengthened those same Sunshine Laws that the mayor flouted.
Every daily news organ in Georgia had that story. Now the next day they had the exclamation point of the need for such laws with the follow-up story of the mayor who threw the citizen with the camera out of City Hall.
And since it was such an unrepentant flouting of state and constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, it is one of serious concern to the media that one who has served so long in public office would take a step we find offensive.
It did not add to the dignity of the proceedings that not one council member raised an objection to this arbitrary action – a matter of housekeeping, the mayor called it.
Nor did the police chief hesitate to carry out the unlawful order. Finally, despite being called upon by the shocked Ms. Tisdale, the city attorney remained mute. Even if the mayor claims ignorance of the law, they should have known better and protected the honor of the mayor and the city.
Whom do they serve, the city or the mayor? And is the Cumming City Council merely the mayor’s rubber stamp? These are the questions that are raised when the public’s rights are trampled in open session.