The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bessemer mayor treading on thin ice

Last Thursday I took the mayor up on his invitation, left on my gate the week before:

Mayor Edward E. May invites you to:

The Mayor's Town Hall Meeting
Canaan Baptist Church, 824 15th street North, Bessemer, AL 35020. Thursday, July 15, 2010 6:30 pm

Come and Share: What is happening? What are your concerns? What can we do to make Bessemer better?

Come, and together we can make it happen.

There was a terrific thunderstorm at 6:20 that evening, and only about 10 people showed up for the meeting. Because there are people who would like to hear what the mayor has to say, and because often it seems unusual things happen at these meetings, I took my camcorder.

Before the meeting began the mayor came and sat down across the table from me, and asked me who I was representing now. He was aware that I used to write an opinion column for his media nemesis, The Western Tribune. I told him that we had a lack of media coverage in the city, and that I was representing myself and the people of Bessemer who are unable to attend his meetings. He replied that we didn’t need any more media, in fact there is still too much media.

I began to record when the meeting began. About 10 minutes later, this dialogue occurred (emphasis mine):

Mayor: I would appreciate it if you would not record that. I would appreciate it if you would not record it.

Joe: If I would not record. If I would not record?

Mayor: Yes.

Joe: Can I ask why?

Mayor: You can, but you're recording what we're saying right now. But I would appreciate it if you would not record it. This is inviting of the public, but it’s not a public forum and quite frankly I'm concerned about your motive for being here and the intent that you have of the recording.

Joe: Ok, I'll turn it off and leave.

I was not asked to leave, but I left of my own accord because I was trying to process what I viewed as an attempt to censor the media by a public official. I remembered that the Alabama Open Meetings Act included this statement in Section 6:

" A meeting of a governmental body, except while in executive session, may be openly recorded by any person in attendance, by means of a tape recorder, or any other means of sonic, photographic, or video reproduction, provided the recording does not disrupt the conduct of the meeting."

Was this a public meeting? I went home and did some research, then composed and sent this letter to the Western Star. The letter may be printed in today’s newspaper (I haven't seen it yet).

Dear Editor:

I attended the mayor’s town hall meeting on July 15 but I only stayed for about 10 minutes. I brought my camcorder with me, and was recording the meeting so that those who were unable to attend could hear what the mayor had to say. Elections are coming up, and we have very little recorded media here in Bessemer.

After speaking for a few minutes, the mayor asked me to turn the recorder off. I asked why, and he wouldn’t answer other than to say he questioned my motives. But he did add, “(this meeting) is not a public forum.”

“Town hall meeting” is defined as “an informal public meeting” where “everyone in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear from public figures and elected officials.”

Just a week before I had attended a town hall meeting for Terri Sewell in West End where video was recorded by a progressive blogger, a Birmingham News reporter, and a television crew. This candidate, with nothing to hide and full of confidence, welcomed the media.

The mayor questioned my motives. I question his; wanting to keep the public from hearing what he has to say. One thing we know, this candidate does not believe in openness or transparency.

Joe Openshaw

This is not the first time the mayor has shut me up. At a council meeting in 2007 I stood before the group with pictures of abused dogs that had suffered while under the care of the Bessemer Animal Shelter. (Information here) I still have the pictures, (an you can see some of them here ) if anyone wants to see.

I was reporting to the council that the actions of the shelter management were afoul of the law, and at the mention of "Rev." Eades (the department head that oversees the facility) the mayor stopped me right there and I was not allowed to speak any more.

This is typical of the mayor who operates under the premise that if the people don't know, there is no problem.

The same thing happened earlier this year when the mayor refused to accept a check for dog food from a bingo operator (story at the second link above) even though dogs were starving in the shelter. The mayor said there had never been starving dogs there (although I have documentation that there has).

Were the mayor's actions at the Town Hall meeting illegal, according to Alabama law? I don't know, but when I said in my letter that this mayor does not believe in openness and transparency, I meant it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Shall I say not surprised though.

Who can beat Mayor May in this election?