Lawmakers are almost unanimously in favor of transparency in government – except when it applies to them.

Lawmakers are almost unanimously in favor of transparency in government – except when it applies to them.

Over the years the Arkansas General Assembly has passed numerous worthwhile open-meetings and open-records laws that serve to shine sunlight on political subdivisions, including city councils, school boards, and quorum courts and on the state agencies that, together, do the people’s business.

However, two local Arkansas legislative bodies are trying to exempt themselves from those laws.

Co-publishers of the White River Current weekly newspaper in Izard County plan to take legal action against the city of Calico Rock after its aldermen voted recently to ban video recording of city council meetings by the newspaper, according to the Baxter Bulletin.

Justices of the peace in neighboring Fulton County decided in August to prohibit people from recording their sessions. The camera had a “chilling effect” when it was turned on, the county judge complained after two individuals videotaped quorum court meetings.

Seven aldermen voted in favor of the Calico Rock video ban, with one member abstaining, The Bulletin noted. The abstainer was quoted as saying he had not witnessed any disruption of a meeting by a video- or audio-recording.

Charles Francis, the co-publisher who video-recorded four council meetings in 2011, said a legal challenge is needed “to rectify this situation” under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. The recording ban was enacted Jan. 16 as part of the procedures adopted for 2012 council meetings.

Mayor Ronnie Guthrie was quoted by The Bulletin as saying he had heard from residents who said they wouldn’t attend the meetings “because they didn’t want to be on YouTube.” Guthrie said the municipality has upheld the FOIA and has never conducted a closed meeting.

The four videos of Calico Rock council meetings in 2011 posted on YouTube with a link to the newspaper’s own website for public access and viewing, acknowledged co-publisher Rich Fischer. The council’s rules then required that they hold the video camera in their hands and remain seated while recording.

A December meeting was adjourned after words between Francis and a council member over the video-recording.

Three non-binding Arkansas attorney generals’ opinions regarding the FOIA were presented to the council last year. A 1983 opinion affirmed a 1977 opinion that it is the right of any citizen to videotape a public meeting.

Public agencies and boards can establish reasonable restrictions on recording of meetings if they pose problems, but have no authority to establish a total ban. However, that is what happened in August at Salem after a video camera was readied to record a meeting of Fulton County justices of the peace.

The justices voted 6-3 vote to ban video recordings. The sheriff was ordered to shut down the video recording.

Elected officials often become nervous when someone wants to record what they say and do. We can only hope the disease is not infectious.

Meetings of the Pine Bluff City Council are recorded and broadcast on the local cable public access channel. Council meetings in Gould are usually recorded.

Some meetings of the Redfield City Council have been recorded during the past year and there has been discussion about linking the recording to the city’s website.

The Commercial has the ability to record public meetings with still photography, video and audio. The biggest problem we have observed over the years is simply that sound systems for most public meetings are not capable of producing broadcast quality audio.

We believe the video recording bans will be overturned by the courts. An alert jurist might suggest that if you don’t want your words and actions recorded, don’t run for public office. It goes with the turf