SGA to vote on recording device ban

By Timothy Bearden

Students wanting to record Student Government Association meetings may soon be out of luck.

At SGA’s Sept. 30 meeting, the association voted on a proposal to ban devices such as video or audio recorders and cameras at regular meetings. Under the new amendment, such devices would not be allowed without approval from a two-thirds majority ruling by the senate.

“No recording devices of any kind may be used during an [SGA] meeting other than those used by the vice president of Communications and students or staff members of and for the purposes for [The Chronicle], WCRX 88.1 FM radio, Frequency Television and/or ECHO magazine without a two-thirds majority vote approval by voting members,” SGA president Jessica Valerio said during the meeting. “The SGA shall produce quality publications of senate meeting minutes. Those meetings shall be made available to the public within a reasonable amount of time.”

The amendment was brought about to protect the privacy of senate members, Valerio said.

“In the past, situations have presented themselves where there have been recording devices that have been brought here to senate meetings and not all the members have felt comfortable, regardless of who that person was, with that recording device being there,” she said during the meeting.

The final vote for the constitutional amendment will take place at an Oct. 7 meeting. The amendment must be voted on in two consecutive meetings in order for it to take effect, she said.

Last year some members of the SGA recorded video footage of the meetings and edited it to “promote their own message,” Brian Matos, Columbia alumnus and former SGA president, said.

“Last year, we had two senators, I think, who were recording meetings related to the Wackenhut security issue,” he said. “What they were doing [was] they would record that portion of the meeting or conversation and take the tape to use on a third website … on Facebook or other social networking sites.”

Matos said the senators would also play it at meetings other than SGA and talk with members from the Service Employees International Union about the tape. He said the union and Wackenhut were in fights over how employees were treated, and the senate members were aiding SEIU with the recorded videos.

Kelli Van Antwerp, vice president of Finance, said it is not unusual for government bodies to employ such methods to prevent anything said in the meetings from being taken out of context or used for personal gain. She said the United States Congress also doesn’t allow any type of recording devices in its chambers.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators website, the Illinois General Assembly restricts access of recording devices. It also limits press access, which the SGA amendment does not.

In Illinois, most open meetings are subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Section four of the act states “any person may record the proceedings at meetings required to be open by this Act by tape, film or any other means.” However, Annice Kelly, vice president and general counsel for Columbia, said the Act only applies to any meeting that is to be open under the act, such as city council meetings, and typically only applies to public institutions, regardless of whether or not they receive any government funding.

The proposed amendment was also discussed at the end of last semester when the executive board was changing members. Matos said he left it up to this year’s new executive board to decide if they should allow recording devices in the meetings.

Valerio said she, as well as other senators, felt uncomfortable at the meetings when the video recorders were being used. Matos said he noticed the debates suffer last year as a result of that.

“The biggest visible impact that I saw as president last year was senators felt that when the camera was on, they couldn’t say what was on their mind or stand up for what they thought their constituents believed,” Matos said. “They knew that their words could be twisted, used against them or to ridicule them.”

The members of the SGA are elected by the student body to represent students or departments in meetings. Matos said although the senators are elected by the student body, they shouldn’t have to be held to the same standards as professional politicians, such as Illinois Congressmen or city aldermen.

“When you’re coming into student government, you’re representing usually a department or student group at-large,” Matos said. “You’re not getting paid, you’re not getting a staff and, frankly, you have a lot of other things on your mind. Having somebody tape you to ridicule you or expose you as something you’re not is a lot to ask of a volunteer.”

Valerio said this amendment wasn’t set up to discourage anyone from attending senate meetings, and Aldo Guzman, the director of Student Leadership, said anyone is still welcome to attend SGA meetings.

“The meeting is still open to the public; anyone can attend them,” Guzman said. “The SGA continues to welcome students, staff and anybody to come in and see what’s happening at the meeting. That’s not changing.”