Councilman says 'it's my party,' tosses citizen from ward meetin - KMOV.com

Councilman says 'it's my party,' tosses citizen from ward meeting

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A recent altercation is raising questions about just where and when a citizen can videotape elected officials and public meetings. Credit: KMOV A recent altercation is raising questions about just where and when a citizen can videotape elected officials and public meetings. Credit: KMOV
WILDWOOD, Mo (KMOV.com) -

An elected official has a citizen tossed out of meeting at a local community college for videotaping.

And now, the man behind the camera wants that councilman to step down.

That recent altercation is raising questions about just where and when a citizen can videotape elected officials and public meetings.

Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager tracked down both sides and you might be surprised to see why everyone is doubling down.

It started as a rather drab meeting. Wildwood Mayor Jim Bowlin addressing residents of Ward Six.

But during the course of it, resident Dan McLaughlin was tossed out.

“I go to some of the ward meetings, I go to planning and zoning occasionally, I go to the ethics meeting,” McLaughlin says.

McLaughlin is a resident in Wildwood, though he doesn't live in Ward Six. He's also married to another councilperson.

So he says he thought nothing of attending the Ward Six meeting at St. Louis Community College in June.

“I quietly walked into the meeting room, I started setting up my camera like I do at most meetings,” McLaughlin said.

He says Councilman Jerry Porter told him to leave. Then, when McLaughlin refused, Porter went to get security.

But it didn't stop there. Porter admits he grabbed McLaughlin’s tripod for his camera.

Eventually, police are called and McLaughlin was escorted out by campus police.

"If I have to tell you one more time, you'll be under arrest. A public meeting, unbelievable."

You might think there's a back story here.

But Councilman Porter tells News 4 he was only upset because of this, he says firmly, was a private meeting, for the 4,500 residents of Ward Six only and he didn't want anyone taking video.

“There will be nobody coming in and videoing any meeting I ever have,” Porter said.

Porter tells News 4 he asked city staff to print these invitations to the meeting. The mayor was there and another elected official.

Porter says the meeting was closed and he didn't want people to feel they couldn't speak out if someone was taking video.

“Do you regret how you handled the situation?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager. “No, I don't regret how I handled it, as I look back on it,” Porter said.

He says McLaughlin used profane language with him, even though it's not on the tape. McLaughlin denies ever doing that.

“He violated the civil rights of a Wildwood resident,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin thinks Porter should resign because the meeting was, to him, clearly public.

So News 4 asked Mark Sableman, an attorney who specializes in open meetings laws, about the situation.

He says he can't comment on this meeting specifically but spoke to us about the law in general.

“If you have people meeting socially or informally, even if there are several members of a public body, that's not a public meeting,” Sableman said.

He says the law often considers the intent of the meeting, was it to decide official business or was it simply social?

He says Missouri’s Sunshine Law does allow for public officials to have private meetings.

It’s generally for public openness, but there are exceptions.

But even if a meeting is public, Porter says he's still got a problem with people taking video.

“I disagree with it, to answer your question, I don't think it needs to,” Porter said.

But the public, McLaughlin says, should have a right to know about this everything public officials say.

The incident was reviewed by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's office, but it didn't file any charges, citing lack of evidence.

The whole thing was brought up at a city council meeting this week. But the full group didn't take any action. 

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