Councilwoman says she was threatened with arrest for recording meeting

  • Friday, June 6, 2014

A.M. Sheehan/South Strand News Andrews town councilwoman Sudah Patel watches the video of the May 31 council meeting where she was stopped from videotaping by the mayor and council.

An Andrews town council member nearly ended up at the county detention center last Saturday after a contentious budget workshop.

At a Saturday, May 31 Council Meeting/Budget Workshop, that ran from 9 a.m. to early afternoon at the Georgetown County Airport Terminal, Councilwoman Sudah Patel was forced to stop videotaping the meeting, she said.

According to Patel, Mayor Rodney Giles asked the other three attending council members – Patsy Green, Eddie Lee and David Tisdale – to make a motion that Patel must shut down the video.

The motion was made by Green and seconded by Lee.

Patel said she told them she had the right to videotape a public meeting. She said Giles responded with “because you’re a public official, you’re not considered public.”

“I said ‘I do have the right to videotape,’” she continued, “and the mayor said ‘shut it off.’”

“The Chief of Police, K. Capers, said ‘shut down your video recording or I am going to arrest you and have Lt. Taylor escort you to Georgetown County Detention Center.’”

She stopped recording.

Patel said she was videotaping the meeting because “there was no one there... no public no media, and I thought there would be some interesting questions raised.”

Green said she made the motion “because she had a video camera and people felt uncomfortable. So we made the motion.”

Green was upset, she said, because Patel was not “in the picture too.”

“She should have been in the picture too, I asked her ‘why aren’t you in the picture?’ and she didn’t answer.”

Lee’s response was “let me get together with the rest of the governing body” before he answered.

Lee did not want to say anything else without speaking with the mayor and council.

Tisdale very succinctly responded saying, “Because we were not given the courtesy of being asked [if she could videotape them].”

“We’re all a team,” he said, “and she never bothered to ask if it was OK. And that is all I have to say [on the subject].”

He said the threat of arrest was about something entirely different, “she violated something but we let it slide. It was an entirely different matter.”

When asked if council members give up their rights when elected to serve the town, he responded “the rule book said the media and the public. She is not the media and not the public.”

However, according to state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law, anyone is free to record a public meeting.

“All or any part of a meeting of a public body may be recorded by any person in attendance by means of a tape recorder or any other means of sonic or video reproduction…provided there is no active interference with the conduct of the meeting.”

The only exception to this is what is commonly called “executive session,” a closed meeting, and the limitations to what can be dicussed in executive session are clear under the FOIA law.

This was not executive session, Patel said.

Chief Capers said he did not say he was going to arrest her, simply escort her off the premises.

He said he told her “I would called the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office to come escort her out because it is their jurisdiction.”

Capers insisted that if the council passed a motion for her to cease videotaping he was going to enforce the motion.

“It is my job to maintain order and discipline,” he stressed, “I am not involved in any political thing, I am here to protect the citizens and keep the city safe...keep the peace.

“The only thing [he is doing] is getting Andrews in a positive direction...I have no time for bickering and making people look bad.”

Capers said that he was going on what it says in the municipal handbook and Patel is an elected official. “And they voted.”

When asked if he would have “escorted” the press out if the council didn’t want it videotaping, he responded with “no, that’s a different situation with the media and press.”

“I apologize if she was offended.”

He continued referring to past controversy, “I had nothing to do with that, and I don’t want to be in the middle of whatever was going on before I was hired.”

Mayor Giles, said “it was incomfortable for the council...we were offended and they made a motion...I did not tell the board to put forth a motion.” The mayor did not want to discuss Patel’s rights and insisted “it was properly done.”

The Municipal Association of South Carolina, publisher of the municipal handbook, confirms that Patel was well within her rights to videotape the meeting.

“She had the right to videotape,” said Jeff Shacker, MASC field services manager.

“FOIA applies to any individual.”

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