Can residents record at the regular meetings of the Amarillo City Council? An event at Tuesday's meeting has sparked conversation on the topic.
On Tuesday, during the regular meeting of the Amarillo City Council, Mayor Ginger Nelson asked residents sitting in the front row of the Council Chambers to stop recording the Council's meeting. Nelson specifically addressed her comments at the use of cell phones in the Council Chambers, saying that cell phones are not allowed at meetings of the City Council.
"I want to remind you that we have some rules of decorum and one of those rules is that we don't allow the use of phones or other electronic equipment," Nelson said on Tuesday. "I see some of you using your phones to take pictures and video and I want to ask you not to do that. It's distracting and it's against the policy that we have here regarding the use of electronic devices."
The statement by Nelson drew criticism from some regarding the City Council setting up rules limiting recording abilities in the City Council meetings. Critics specifically drew on Texas Government Code Chapter 551, which allows citizens to record public meetings in the state of Texas.
"A person in attendance may record all or any part of an open meeting of a governmental body by means of a recorder, video camera, or other means of aural or visual reproduction," Texas Government Code 551 reads.
Texas law, however, does allow governing bodies to set "reasonable rules" for recording to maintain order. The two areas in which governing bodies may make rules regarding the location of the recording equipment and the "manner" in which the recording is made. The law does that state that the rules "may not prevent or unreasonably impair a person from exercising" their right to record the meeting.
Resident Kip Billups, who was one of several residents recording the meeting, said that he disagreed with the way in which Mayor Nelson chose to limit the use of phones in the Council Chambers.
"Personally, I find Mayor Nelson's announcement demanding that videotaping the public City Hall meeting cease interesting," Billups told the Amarillo Pioneer in a written statement. "I stayed 15 days on the steps of City Hall and was arrested because she is actively violating the homeless 8th Amendment rights. Now she thinks that I will stop when she actively attempts to violate my first? In the words of the British singer Rob Halford, 'You've Got Another Thing Coming.'"
Dusty Reins, an Amarillo-based documentarian and historian, said that he has been recording events, including City of Amarillo events, since the 1980's. Reins said that he was denied access from recording meetings in the 1980's and has sought permission to record various events since then.
"I think I recorded something in the 2000's," Reins said. "I asked for permission first. There are different rules that govern the individual apart from the media outlet."
Reins said that he has recorded events in recent years like the groundbreaking ceremony for the downtown baseball stadium, which involved the current city council. At such events, Reins said, he has not been barred from recording.
City of Amarillo spokesperson Jesse Patton told the Amarillo Pioneer on Thursday that the rules for conduct in City Council meetings do exist in a written form and are enforced at Council meetings. A copy of the rules, as provided by Patton and the City, show that the Council will not tolerate the "audible use" of phones, radios and other electronic devices at Council meetings.
The City Council meets every Tuesday at 5pm at Amarillo City Hall. For more information, please visit amarillo.gov.