KEARNEY – Last Friday, while municipal officials dealt with a surprise budget shortfall, a budget meeting in the Town of Kearney was disrupted when police were called because a member of the public was videotaping proceedings.
According to OPP Community Services Officer Louise Maki, police were dispatched for assistance at the Kearney Community Centre around 1:45 p.m. on May11.
According to Maki, a member of the public was trying to videotape the meeting of the budget committee chaired by Coun. Louise Wadsworth.
Police arrived on scene about 10 minutes later.
“The person left when asked to by police,” said Maki.
At this time, police have taken no action.
Three officers did respond to the scene, however Maki said that this is not a reflection of the severity of the call.
“It doesn’t mean that they had to have three officers there, it just means three officers showed up,” she said. “That doesn’t indicate any sort of degree of how serious the situation is.”
According to Jeff Johnston Jr., the son of former mayor Jeff Johnston, he was the one asked to leave. Johnston Jr. said in an email to the Almaguin News that he hadn’t initially intended to videotape the meeting, however, “after about 20 to 30 minutes it became apparent that some very bad accounting had gone into the 2012 budget and the consultant was pointing out error after error.”
According to Johnston Jr., he was asked to stop videotaping and leave by Wadsworth, but declined.
He alleges that it was not Wadsworth who initially objected to the videotaping, although she was the one to bring it to council’s attention when two other members of the public reacted.
“Things escalated with members of the public and council shouting at each other,” stated Johnston Jr.
According to Johnston Jr., the mayor “walked up, stuck his tongue out at me and sneered that I didn’t even live here.”
Tomlinson responded to an inquiry by the Almaguin News in relation to the incident with a voicemail suggesting the paper contact Wadsworth, as the meeting’s chair.
This is not the first time a video taping incident has disrupted a meeting of a committee of council in the Town of Kearney.
It was during an April 17 committee meeting when an exchange took place between Johnston, the former mayor, and Mayor Paul Tomlinson after a member of the public pointed out that Tomlinson was recording dialogue between Johnston and the chief building official.
“Mayor Tomlinson has videoed and photographed members of the public at town meetings, so I saw no reason why I couldn’t video public officials at a public meeting on public property,” said Johnston Jr.
According to Wadsworth, members of the committee objected to the videotaping, including a member of staff.
“I followed it with a request to stop videotaping. That was denied. So, I asked him to leave. That was denied,” she said. “It basically went from there.”
Wadsworth says that according to the information she had, provided to her by town staff, videotaping is not allowed unless recognized by the chair for the purposes of asking a question and taping the response to the question.
“He was not recognized by the chair and he was not asking a question,” she said.
Wadsworth says she did not look up the policy; she was going on information supplied by staff at the time.
According to clerk administrator Yvonne Aubichon, while the Town of Kearney does not have a policy regarding video recording at meetings, decorum is addressed in the procedural by-law.
Aubichon specifically drew attention to sections of the bylaw concerning duties of the mayor or chair in council or on committees as well as sections under conduct of guests and those in attendance.
Duties of the mayor or chair include enforcement of order and decorum among members, calling by name any member persisting in breaching the rules, thereby ordering the member to vacate the chamber, to adjourn the meeting without question in the case grave disorder arises, and order any individual or group in attendance at the meeting to cease and desist any behaviour which disrupts order and decorum and order them to vacate the chambers if behaviour persists.
Guests shall not “disturb another, or council, member, staff or individual by any disorderly conduct disconcerting to the speaker or the assembly”; nor shall they “be permitted to retake their seat after being ordered to leave the meeting, having committed a breach of any rule of the council and without making an apology to council, and having the consent of council or the committee, expressed by a majority vote of the other members present, determined without debate.”
Wadsworth says after the altercation the meeting did resume.
“We really had work to do and we didn’t want the distraction to derail what we had to accomplish,” she said.