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Citizens thank supervisors for meeting room with sunshine

The Westmoreland Supervisors met this Monday in the old A.T. Johnson auditorium with a video camcorder recording their deliberations and sunlight pouring through the room’s large windows.
On Aug. 26 county government published an announcement that it would move all of its public meetings to the A.T. Johnson Museum auditorium. Not stated in the notice was local government’s previous refusal to allow its public meetings to be videoed, photographed or recorded in the G.D. English Building meeting rooms it shares with the Westmoreland County courts.
This week’s meeting began with Board of Supervisors Chairman Darryl Fisher’s highly detailed explanation of his decision to reinstitute his practice of delivering a prayer prior to the conduct of the Board’s official business.
Describing himself as a Baptist pastor, Fisher pushed the envelope of what the constitution can allow.

“I’ve been inundated with requests to reinstitute prayer,” he related. “As a Baptist pastor, I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of the living God, but because there are many beliefs, I try not to be offensive, but I try to pay homage to him to whom it is due.
“I am true to my convictions and even when it’s not popular, you have to hold to your convictions.”
Everyone pledged allegiance to the American flag. Fisher then told the county’s public, “You can have a seat. We’re not in church.
“Father God,” began the pastor and Board Chairman, “You have given us another opportunity to come together.”
“I ask that you let the spirit of civility reign down. I ask that you control this meeting.”
Fisher advised that the meeting place had been changed “in order to have better accommodations for legal requirements.”
He was talking about the law that makes it illegal for a local government to prohibit use of audio and video recording devices in public meetings. Moving county government’s public meetings out of accommodations previously shared with county courts will help ensure courtroom security, public officials have alleged.
In order to move the meetings’ location, amendments were needed to rules of procedure adopted eight months before. For what many residents considered an interminable interval, discussion centered on where the private citizen’s video camera ought to point and how it should be focused.
A precise copy of the language eventually adopted by the Westmoreland Supervisors will become available at some later date. Essentially, the cameraman was directed to focus only on the Board members and any speaker whom Board Chairman Fisher chose to designate. At no time will the camera be allowed to focus on an audience response.
Video hobbyist Bob Quinn patiently stood at his tripod throughout the board’s discussion of what it considered appropriate camera protocols. The Sept. 14 meeting’s video will be posted on www.journalpress.com later in the week.
During Monday’s public comment segment, the board was applauded for changing its meeting place.
“Thank you for having your meeting here,” said Bonnie Balderson. “I didn’t like having to go through those metal detectors when I attended your [English Building] meetings last month and the month before. The sunshine is also better in this room.”
Rose Goodloe expressed a similar sentiment when she addressed the board.
“The sunshine is great in this room. It really does add to a difference in feelings,” said Goodloe as the volunteer’s camera dutifully recorded the action of the day.

Betsy Ficklin,  Staff reporter

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