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Council agrees that managers need consent to edit broadcasts

March 23, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - City officials faced a question last week over whether to edit an elected official's comments out of televised reruns of City Council meetings.

The answer, according to the City Council this week, is not without the council's permission.

The question arose after Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, during last week's council meeting, took aim at a slate of Republican candidates and their campaign contributors. Hendershot, a Democrat, lost in the March 8 primary.

Without a clear legal opinion, city officials chose to edit Hendershot's comments out of the tape before it was shown on the city's cable channel, Antietam Cable Channel 6.

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During Tuesday's council work session, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said city managers made the right decision with the information they had, but said they shouldn't make that decision again.

Metzner said there is a "fundamental obvious principal of freedom of speech, and freedom of speech is allowed no greater place than in the halls of our legislative bodies."

Metzner said the reason the city has chosen to televise its meetings is because it is important for citizens to have access to city government, and they have the right to hear what elected officials say, regardless of what it is.

"They do not expect to see an edited video play," Metzner said.

Metzner called for the council to agree with him that for elected officials' comments to be edited from broadcasts in the future, city managers would have to get permission from the City Council.

At least three council members nodded their heads in approval, and none opposed Metzner, in essence setting verbal guidelines for future broadcasts.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, the city's top hired manager, said the direction he received Tuesday was that any future requests to edit comments by elected officials must be brought before the council for a vote. Only a majority of the council could remove those comments.

Tuesday's decision did not settle other questions, including whether federal communications laws guiding equal time for political candidates affect the City Council broadcasts, and what should happen if a citizen makes hurtful or false accusations during a meeting.

Scott D. Hesse is one of the Republican slate members who will vie for a City Council seat in the May 17 general election. Hesse called Zimmerman last week to voice his concerns over the rebroadcast of Hendershot's comments.

Hesse, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said the decision "helps (city) staff do their jobs better." But he said he wished the city used its channel to not only broadcast information by those in government, but also those "who may be leading this government soon."

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