Western New Jersey

Phillipsburg Council initially votes to restrict videotaping of meetings

PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. - In a perfunctory and taut decision Tuesday night, Phillipsburg Town Council voted 4-0 to add a provision that places restrictions on the videotaping and recording of council meetings. Councilman John Lynn was absent.

It was the first vote of two on the subject.

The restrictions placed on the videotaping were compartmentalized into three sections in the amendment – on tripods, handheld and other provisions – and were arrived at after a previous ordinance was scrapped after citizens and WFMZ-TV news director Brad Rinehart raised questions about their legality during a September 4th council meeting.

"We made many concessions during this process," said Councilman Todd Tersigni before Tuesday night's vote.

No other council member spoke about the legislation Tuesday night.

The amendment approved states that "no more than two video recording devices at a time shall be permitted at a Town Council meeting, exclusive of any video recording device utilized by the Town." If more than two cameras wish to record the proceedings, the ordinance states that there will be a "drawing" by the town clerk or acting clerk, to ascertain which camera will be permitted to record.

In addition, the ordinance states that any video recording devices must be set up prior to the start of the meeting and cannot be moved during the course of the meeting.

In the section that examines handheld equipment, the ordinance states that the "handheld video or recording equipment is permitted in the audience seating area only." In addition these devices are also prohibited to start recording until the meeting has been called to order, and must cease upon its conclusion.

Under the "other provisions" section approved Tuesday night, a provision that state "members of the press are free to conduct interviews of Town Officials, or any other persons, in the hall prior to, or at the conclusion of, the meeting."

Should someone not comply with the ordinance, the council president can ultimately ask the individual to remove the video equipment from the room.

Prior to the vote Phillipsburg resident Blaine Fehley, who videotapes each council meeting for a website, expressed his disapproval of one section of the amendment that states that "video recording equipment may not be broken down and/or put away until the meeting has been adjourned or is in recess." Nevertheless his concerns were not addressed.

In other business Tuesday night three individuals were sworn in as the newest members of the town's police force. They were Dominic Belcastro, Michael Connaughton and Brett Marino.

The second vote on the videotaping issue will be taken at the council's next regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 16.

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