CUMMING, Ga. - The Georgia Attorney General's Office is investigating whether Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt broke the law when he told a local activist she couldn't videotape a recent city council meeting, then had the police chief escort her out of the meeting.
Nydia Tisdale, who runs the blog AboutForsyth.net, had planned to videotape the Cumming City Council's discussion Tuesday night about a water contract with Forsyth County. But, as the meeting started,
Gravitt announced he had to take care of a "housecleaning issue."
"Chief Tatum, if you would, remove the camera from the room," he said. "We don't allow cameras to film inside the City Hall here unless it's for civic reasons."
Tisdale's camera rolled as Cumming Police Chief Casey Tatum escorted her from the council chambers.
"It's frightening, it's egregious," she told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik. "My rights were violated."
Tisdale told Petchenik she hopes the
attorney general's office "teaches the city a lesson" about freedom of speech and the press.
"The City of Cumming can ignore Nydia Tisdale, but they cannot ignore the state
attorney general, Sam Olens," she said.
general's spokeswoman Lauren Kane told Petchenik her office would "resolve the issue as expeditiously as possible." She said if a violation occurred, the state could fine the offender or offenders $1,000.
Petchenik tracked Gravitt down to City Hall, and the mayor defended his actions.
"Certainly we don't want to defy the law," he told Petchenik. "We're a law-abiding city."
Gravitt told Petchenik his interpretation of the Open Records Act was that a person could take still pictures or video, and not both. Petchenik checked, and the law clearly allows a citizen to record any public meeting.
"Maybe everyone don't understand it," he said. "I think it's a complicated sunshine law."
Gravitt also explained that he had concerns that allowing one camera and tripod in would embolden multiple people to bring in cameras and tripods into a meeting.
"It could be a safety
issue, for one thing," he said, adding that he supports First Amendment and free speech rights.