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South King fire board changes video policy after incident with blogger

At each meeting of the South King Fire and Rescue commissioners, Jerry Galland brings a video camera and sets it up on a tiny tripod so he can tape the proceedings. Galland, a resident of unincorporated King County, runs a blog — often critical — that covers the local fire district. He films it, he said, so he can back up what he writes with indelible proof.

At last Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners made a policy revision that will ensure Galland, and any other member of the public, can video record the meetings. However, the policy allows citizens who object to being filmed to ask that a camera be turned off. Only members of the public can request that cameras be shut off.

The policy changes come after an incident almost two months ago where Galland was asked to shut off his camera. At the beginning of the Nov. 4 meeting, board chairman Bill Gates, noticing Galland’s camera, asked if anyone in the meeting objected to the recording. Then, a special executive session was called. When the body emerged, Galland was told to turn off the camera.

In the days after the incident, the commissioners’ attorney, Joe Quinn, said videotaping should be restricted because it could have a “chilling effect” on members of the public who attend the meetings, or are testifying, but don’t want to be taped. He also said that the video recording could make other members of the public nervous, since a videographer could do what they want with the images.

But by Nov. 9, Chief Allen Church said that the commissioners would revise policy to allow video recording.

The state Open Meetings Act does not allow a body to place restrictions on attendance of a public meeting. The law does allow disruptive members of the public to be removed from meetings.

Galland said that he’s noticed a huge difference since the Nov. 4 meeting: mainly that he has not been prevented from videotaping.

“There’s no comparison (to the first incident),” he said Thursday.

But, he disagrees with the language in the new policy that provides members of the public who object to being filmed the chance to shut off a camera. Galland hypothesized that an audience member could ask to have the camera shut off, which he would refuse, and then the chairman could kick him out for being disruptive.

The change was developed in the commissioners’ policy committee and was approved unanimously (with Vice Chairman James Fossos absent).

At a special meeting Nov. 15, the commissioners had voted to allow videotaping while the commissioners’ policy was being revised. That order expired Thursday with the enacting of the new policy.

Galland is relatively new to attending South King Fire and Rescue meetings. Over the summer — while also running as a candidate for District 30 Legislature — Galland headed a campaign to kill the fire district’s Proposition 1. The measure would have reduced the fire district’s levy from $1.50 to $1, but added a “benefit charge” to property owners based on the square footage and fire risk of their property. The proposition failed at the polls. After his campaign, Galland said he wanted to keep up with fire district happenings, so he started going to meetings. He’ll keep videotaping, and may share some online.

“Some will probably make it up onto the (blog),” he said, referring to southkingfire.net. South King Fire and Rescue’s website is southkingfire.org.

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