Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pelahatchie bans cellphones at public meetings

Note: The unedited video of the entire Board meeting, agenda, and Board packet are posted below. 

The Pelahatchie Board of Aldermen voted unanimously last night to ban the possession of cellphones at its public meetings (14:27 in the video posted below).  It also voted to cut the pay of  Aldermen and the Mayor.  There was no discussion on the matter.  The conference room was packed with Pelahatchie citizens and was standing-room only.   The Board of Aldermen also took several other actions:


*Voted unanimously to cut the pay of the Mayor and Aldermen to $200 per month.  The Mayor's salary was $1,000 per month while Aldermen were paid $500 per month.

*Continued a freeze on paying for even law enforcement needs with asset forfeiture funds until the State Auditor finishes his investigation. The City has not received any information regarding the investigation of the asset forfeiture fund from the State Auditor.

*The Board hired Janice Jones as the new City Clerk at an annual salary of $45,000. The previous City Clerk was paid an annual salary of  $82,000 and additional fringe benefits.

*As stated earlier, cellphones are now prohibited at public meetings at City Hall.  The new policy states:

SECTION I. The Board oof Aldermen does herby find that is in the best interest of the Town to adopt a formal policy in regards to the possession and use of cellular phones by the Public during meetings of the Town'sGoverning Body at the Town's City Hall.  The Policy shall be that the possession and use of cellular phones by the Public is prohibited during meetings of the Town's Governing Body at the Town's City Hall. 

The policy exempts government officials and aldermen.  The resolution gives the Chief of Police the power to enforce the policy.  (p.14 in packet).

*The Board rejected the Mayor's request to install additional security cameras at City Hall.

*The Police Chief will update the 23 year-old eight-page teen curfew policy and present it to the Board at the next meeting.  


Kingfish note: It is questionable whether this policy violates the Open Meetings Act.  The Act allows the public to record meetings of public bodies.  The Ethics Commission stated in Crockett v. City of Canton:

While the Open Meetings Act does not specifically address the electronic recording of public meetings by members of the public, the Office of the Attorney General has opined on this question a number of times. See, for example, MS AG Op., Smith (August 8, 2006); MS AG Op.,  Scott  (November  20,  1991);  MS  AG  Op.,  Garrett  (May  3,  1990).  In  those  opinions  the Attorney General’s Office opined that “while a board may develop reasonable rules regarding taping and/or recording of its public meetings, a flat prohibition against taping is unreasonable and violates the intent of the open meetings laws.”
In  Opinion  No.  2006-00021,  issued  on  February  9,  2007,  to  the  City  of  Verona,  the Attorney General’s Office noted Section 25-41-9, Miss. Code of 1972, allows a public body to develop reasonable rules and regulations concerning the conduct of their meetings. The opinion concluded by stating “the Board may develop rules concerning the tape recording of its meetings to allow for minimal disruption thereof, but may not limit or restrict such recordings based upon the person's purpose in making the recording.
The Board is trying to be cute and make an end run around the law so voters can't record what their elected officials do in City Hall.  Several citizens who attended the meeting accused the Board of instituting this policy so the public can't observe their elected officials in action.

The policy is overly broad and goes too far when a more narrowly tailored solution could solve the problem of cellphone disturbances- if that is indeed the reason for the policy.  The solution to cellphones ringing during a public meeting is simple.  Throw the offender out of the meeting.  Period.  Some cities and counties give a warning to the offender before ejecting him.

Pelahatchie probably has the least transparent governments this correspondent has seen in quite some time.  It is one of the few cities that does not post the minutes online.  Agendas and public notices of public meetings are not posted on the city website.  Agendas are not distributed to the public at the Board meetings.  Several people asked me after the meeting how I got an agenda.

Well, it's time to give the Aldermen and Mayor of Pelahatchie a civics lesson. Section 25-41-5 (3) of the Mississippi Code states

An agenda and materials that will be distributed to members of the public body and that have been made available to the staff of the public body in sufficient time for duplication and forwarding to the members of the public body shall be made available to the public at the time of the meeting. Votes taken during any meeting conducted through teleconference or video means shall be taken in a manner that is clearly audible or visible to all members of the public body and to members of the public present at the public location.

 A word of advice: These packets tend to be rather large.  It is not uncommon for such packets to be 100-200 pages.  The clerk will appreciate it if you give notice that you will attend the meeting and want a copy when you arrive.  Some governments such as Jackson, Ridgeland, and Madison County are posting these packets on their websites and more should do the same.  Keep in mind that the government can charge a copying charge although some choose not to do so in the spirit of the public interest.    There is no reason why a stack of copies of the agenda can't be waiting at the door for people who decide to attend the meetings. 

That is today's lesson on civics in Mississippi.  Read the rest of the Open Meetings Act.  Remember, it is your government regardless of who is elected and you have the right to see what your elected officials are doing. If they throw a tantrum as one alderman did last night over the mere presence of a camera, then you should ask why.


27 comments:

Mr. Tibbs said...

Cell Phones have video cameras. So isn't this in violation of the opens meeting act?

Anonymous said...

These crooks must be related to the crooks in Canton. Do the Blackmons represent Pelahatchie too?

Anonymous said...

If anyone feels aggrieved by the decision of the Board of Alderman of the Snatch to outright ban cell phones at board meetings, there is a process and forum within which to raise the issue: A complaint filed with the Mississippi Ethics Commission. Please proceed. Otherwise, STFU.

Anonymous said...

Anytime something like that is done unanimously and without discussion, it was decided long before the actual meeting.....which also violates the open meetings laws.

Somebody do a FOI request for their emails and texts to each other in the last 30 days.

Anonymous said...

"The policy exempts government officials and aldermen."

Do as I say, not as I do.

Kingfish said...

Actually, I had a discussion with the city attorney after the meeting and pointed out it might be an OMA violation. He said he would contact either House Hood Major or House Hood Minor.

Oliver Wendell Douglas said...

Honorable mention goes out to Uncle Joe and Sam Drucker for slowing the Cannonball Express down until the completion of the invocation.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone confirm or deny the rumor that the new mayor is actually a citizen of Hinds County? I know she grew up in Pelahatchie, but rumor is she is a resident in Jackson, Raymond Rd area as listed on some documents, and using her moms address as a resident address for Pelahatchie. "IF" this is the case, this sets a huge precedent on who can run for office, where. Say I live in Rankin county, my aunt lives in Jackson, Ward 3. Does that mean I can use her address for my residence to run in a city I don't actually reside in?

Kingfish said...

Property records don't show her name.

Anonymous said...

What a shit show..........

Anonymous said...

Until I heard the comments, I thought their basis for the ban was going to be "because cellphones are the Devil!"

Anonymous said...

Mr. Tibbs, since other devices contain video components (non-cell phone devices), this is not a violation of the Open Meetings Act. You can always be old-fashioned and just bring a video recorder.

Anonymous said...

https://www.sony.com/electronics/handycam-camcorders/hdr-cx405#reviews_awards_v2_default

Cheaper than a cell phone and not covered under the ban.

Anonymous said...

I got this one a while back as a gift when my first was born....kind of a while back but should get you in the alderman meeting.

https://www.webstore.com/RCA-VHS-Camcorder-Set-and-Case-620650332-Vintage-Plastic-,name,17903229,auction_id,auction_details

Anonymous said...

@1:30pm Barbara and Ed Blackmon (our Lawmakers) live on Madison Edward Drive in Jackson, MS and use Ed Blackmon's deceased mothers address in Canton to run for office. Oh, but don't you worry
something is going to be done about the Blackmons.

Anonymous said...

The City Clerk was making $82,000 a year? How does that compare to the City Clerk salaries in much larger places?

Anonymous said...

So cellphones are out, but can I sit there with a GoPro on my head??? :)

Anonymous said...

The previous city clerk definitely had pictures of something...

Anonymous said...

This won't fly anymore than a ban on ball point pens, yesterday's underwear or briefcases would fly.

On a related not, I'm always amused when, at the beginning of meetings, some official will admonish all to 'please turn off your cell phones' and as soon as the meeting begins, whose phones start ringing?

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but these idiots are likely too ignorant to understand what is and is not allowed, and is and is not required in public governmental forums.

Anonymous said...

6:00 PM, aka, 7 PM on Jackson Time, what City Clerk be makin dat moche monay?

Anonymous said...

One can only wonder if pitchforks are banned.

Anonymous said...

Poor Mrs. Patsy...she means well

Anonymous said...

And if you’ve ever in life been to Pelahatchie is it necessary to be escorted out one by one by Pelahatchie’s finest?! Comical

Anonymous said...

So u removal all support for the town. thank u. Your goal is clear. I see you only leave up what’s bashing them

Kingfish said...

Grow up. Haven't removed anything. I'm nothing to approve comments with accusations I can't verify. You going to pay my legal fees if I get sued?

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not a lot of the community members called city hall and went to some of the Alderman and asked for the removal of the cell phones. The meetings had been for lack of better terminology Wild. The mayor was throwing people out, asking the chief to escort people out of they stood to speak or said something not in her favor. . It appears that she was calm Last Monday night, nice. It’s not normally that way. The request for no cellphones came from both the black and white community and they did ask to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation

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