Monday, 26 September 2011

Editorial - Video coverage not welcome at Fredericton City Hall? Enact a policy.




Although there is no policy regarding videotaping at Fredericton City Hall, we were recently informed that we cannot take any further video footage in the public reception areas of the building - unless permission is granted first.

Saying the videotaping was done without knowledge or consent of city staff, and was disrespectful to their work place, City Clerk Brenda Knight threatened privacy implications in an e-mail, declaring written or verbal consent of city employees was necessary before taping could begin.

The backstory on this began when The PurpleViolet Press was asked to accompany Friends of the UNB Woodlot member, Mark D'Arcy, to city hall. D'Arcy wanted to present a letter to the City Clerk requesting a place on the agenda for the next city council meeting to discuss the issue of shale gas within city limits. It was our understanding repeated requests by D'Arcy to meet with city council had gone unanswered, and although he was granted time with the city's Public Safety and Environment committee, he has yet to speak to council as a whole.

D'Arcy has been a thorn in the side of the city for several years on environmental issues. Having crashed the last city council meeting, D'Arcy hasn't endeared himself to Mayor or Council. But by continually refusing to grant him a date with the entire council, it gives the impression the city's annoyance is overshadowing a citizen's right to be heard. Simply because a member of the public is perceived as a nuisance, should that be a reason to continually put him off? Why not give him a date, hear him out and be done with it?

By doing so, this publication wouldn't have been called upon by D'Arcy to videotape the receipt of his request letter being signed and dated by the City Clerk. And city employees wouldn't have felt their privacy invaded.

To wit, Ms. Knight said in her e-mail:

"We are not elected officials - we are public servants - we are here to serve the public, with due consideration from the public that our personal workspace is private. For example, family pictures or confidential information that might be in view within a personal workspace might create privacy issues when posted to an internet site."


The Purple Violet Press checked the video before posting to ensure none of these things were visible.

Knight also failed to mention an assistant informed her a member of the public arrived at reception asking to see her, but made no mention of our videotaping the scene. Shouldn't the assistant bear some responsibility for not making her superior aware of our presence; giving Knight the choice to be on or off camera?

However, we do understand the position of city staff and respect Ms. Knight's point.

Up to a certain extent.

The city, by virtue of not having a policy on videotaping within its public reception areas, has been remiss in protecting it's employees. If staff don't want to be confronted by a frustrated public, who've asked the media to accompany them to city hall, on why matters have been left with no redress, they should ask their employer to enact a policy.

When members of the public feel they have been denied a fair hearing over and over by procedure and bureaucracy, it should come as no surprise that public arrives at city hall with media in tow. In this instance, employees were recorded in a professional manner and we remained silent throughout D'Arcy's dealings with city staff. Furthermore, no one voiced dismay at being videotaped, nor asked us to turn the camera off, and we identified ourselves to Knight before leaving the building.

We know and appreciate the hard work of the city's public servants, having once worked for the city ourselves. There is no pleasure in accompanying a member of the public to city hall to confront officials on videotape. But council must acknowledge its citizen regardless of past dealings, and be responsible for employees who've been left exposed to deal with what it refuses to.