In a seeming violation of state open meeting law, Republican Senator Sue Serino had a videographer threatened with removal from a community meeting if he did not stop filming. The cameraman eventually turned his device off when a Sheriff upgraded the threat to a possible arrest.
The Times Union referred to the incident as “bad optics” but it may have amounted to much more in the form of a violation of the law.
— Capitol Confidential (@TUCapCon) December 2, 2015
Here is the video of the incident:
Mert Melfa, the videographer and online political analyst, insisted that the event was open to the public, despite his residency being in a neighboring county.
An online posting for the community forum does indeed say it is ‘open’ to the ‘public.’
Serino represents District 41, which includes portions of Dutchess County where Melfa identifies as his residence. It’s not as if he identified from southern California. And since the event was a public meeting, not even that should have mattered.
After Serino suggests that it is the residents who don’t wish to be recorded, Melfa amicably agrees to only record the Senator responses to questions.
That solution didn’t alleviate the situation however, as it escalated to a threat made by the Sheriff in attendance.
“If you do not want to leave, we can go another course,” the Sheriff threatens.
Melfa responds, “You’re going to arrest me if I don’t leave?”
“At this point, you’re pushing that line yes,” says the Sheriff, at which point the camera is turned off.
The New York state Open Meetings Law, Section 103 of the Public Officers Law reads in part:
Any meeting of a public body that is open to the public shall be open to being photographed, broadcast, webcast, or otherwise recorded and/or transmitted by audio or video means. As used herein the term “broadcast” shall also include the transmission of signals by cable.
Residents posted their outrage to Serino’s Facebook page, with comments ranging from “Shame on you” to others calling for action against the Senator and the Sheriff’s office for a violation of the First Amendment.
Did Serino violate Open Meetings Law by banning the online media member?