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City Council meeting tape edited for political content

March 22, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

City officials chose to edit a video copy of last week's City Council meeting to remove politically charged comments by Councilman N. Linn Hendershot before the video was shown on the city's cable channel.

City officials said the decision was a result of an ongoing debate among city officials and political candidates over what role the cable channel should play in this year's city elections.

It is the first time that the video was edited to remove comments since the city began televising the meetings, City Public Information Manager Karen Giffin said.

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Hendershot, who was defeated in the March 8 primary, took aim during the March 15 public meeting at the slate of six Republican candidates in this year's election and their supporters.

Those comments were shown live on March 15 on Antietam Cable Channel 6 but on later broadcasts of the taped show, those comments were removed, Giffin and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

"At this point, I'm anxious to get down to City Hall tomorrow," Hendershot said Monday. "I don't understand the way it was done."

Zimmerman said the decision to not show Hendershot's comments should not be viewed as a position by the city on Hendershot's comments, but rather the decision was made following an opinion by the City Attorney's Office regarding fairness.

In February, Republican City Council candidate Ruth Anne Callaham sought a legal opinion from the city about the use of the cable channel in regards to the election.

In a Feb. 23 letter, City Attorney William Nairn wrote a six-paragraph opinion, saying that other cities are divided over whether to allow candidates to use the government channel for election purposes, but one reason cities don't do it is because of the so-called fairness doctrine.

Nairn wrote that the doctrine "basically provides that if you allow one candidate use of the channel, all candidates would have to be allowed use on an equal or similar basis."

Callaham, reached Monday, said she agrees with the fairness doctrine.

"It's been clear to me that the incumbents are being a bit opportunistic" with the time they have during their meetings, Callaham said. "We do not have any opportunity that we could refute (their comments) to the same audience."

Nairn, in the same opinion, also said: "There is a specific exception in the law for the broadcasting of bona fide government meetings, which exempt from the application of the fairness doctrine the appearance of incumbent candidates at a bona fide government meeting."

Scott Hesse, a Republican running on the same slate as Callaham, called Zimmerman last week to voice concerns over fairness of Hendershot's comments.

"It was blatantly political," Hesse said.

But Hesse said he also believed citizens have the right to see the entire meeting, not an edited version.

"It puts me in a dilemma," Hesse said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said if other council members don't call for the issue to be discussed at this afternoon's meeting, he will in hopes of setting a more clear policy.

Metzner said he doesn't see how the fairness doctrine could be applied in this particular context, and "it won't happen again."

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