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Cameras at issue in Westmoreland County

A CBS television news camera crew covering O’Gara Group’s move to Westmoreland had visited the county on June 8 but declined to stay around for that month’s evening Board of Supervisors meeting.
On August 10 an ABC television news camera crew visited the county to cover reactions to O’Gara Group’s arrival on property purchased from Bryan Chandler several weeks ago. That crew also opted not to stick around for the evening Board of Supervisors meeting.
On June 8 and August 10 Westmoreland resident Bob Quinn was prevented from videoing the Board of Supervisors meetings. Quinn successfully filmed the Westmoreland Industrial Development Authority’s meeting on June 29 and county government authorities subpoenaed a copy of that meeting video. That video has been displayed on The Journal's website at www.journalpress.com since the June 29 meeting.The Journal was present this Monday evening when Westmoreland Sheriff’s Office employees Ron Hundley and Bill England prevented Quinn from entering the Supervisors’ G. D. English Building meeting room with the camera in his hand.  “You can’t take that in there with you,” Quinn was told as he and others went through the security screening protocols that were instituted by the Sheriff’s Office and local government on July 13.

“Cameras in courtrooms are prohibited,” the deputies explained.

According to Hundley and England, the judge controls the courts and the Board of Supervisors meeting room is a court.
To allow cameras in court would result in compromised security, the deputies advised. Quinn was chided for allowing The Journal to post the June 29 video on its webpage. The video hobbyist was told web posting of the video provided criminals with knowledge that could be used to remove criminals from the custody of the jurisdiction’s police authorities.
Quinn had in hand a copy of a Virginia statute he and others assert ensures the public’s ability to film the public meetings of local government officials. The two deputies refused to review the statute, remaining adamant that a judicial order prohibits use of cameras in the court and that the Supervisors’ meeting room is in fact a court. (The Journal consistently videos meetings of Colonial Beach Council, and CB School Board, Planning Commission and committee meetings and meetings of the King George County Board of Supervisors.)
Quinn and camera moved immediately to the County Administrator’s office, where members of the Board of Supervisors and their staff routinely gather before their meetings officially begin. Again the hobbyist was told no cameras are allowed.
The Journal asked the deputies if the Supervisors had committed security breaches when Board members previously encouraged the news reporters to take still pictures in the same English Building meeting room. Is there one rule for moving picture videos and another rule for photographs, or is this new policy?
The two deputies refused to respond to the reporter’s question.
The reporter from the daily paper had his own set of questions to present to Supervisors. A visit to the County Administrator’s office prior to the meeting clearly failed to result in that reporter’s satisfaction.
The reporter utilized the meeting’s public comment segment to introduce the topic, relating that the police officers had told a county resident that video cameras are prohibited in courtrooms. The camera was prohibited at a time when no court was convening in that room.
The reporter then read the list of prohibitions that is posted on G. D. English Building courtroom doors. There can be no guns, gum, cameras, recorders, short pants, T-shirts, food or beverages in the court.
“If these are in fact new rules of procedure, why don’t you be transparent and tell the people that they are,” the veteran reporter and Westmoreland resident told the members of the board.
Board Chairman Darryl Fisher offered no response. Residents later suggested that Fisher was unable to speak because he had too much candy in his mouth.
Quinn filmed his pre-meeting interactions with the Sheriff’s deputies and the members of the county government. The Journal  will be running Quinn's video taping his interaction with the two Westmoreland deputies and  the pre-meeting meeting in the County Administrator's office on its web site.
Westmoreland County is the only jurisdiction this paper covers that prohibits its meetings from being videoed for public consumption, but on Monday night Chairman Fisher repeatedly praised the “progressive” character of that local government.
 - Betsy Ficklin

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