House rules? State Rep. tells NH man to stop recording work session during Sunshine Week
CONCORD — A state representative cited house rules when she told a New Hampshire man to stop recording a committee meeting — rules that apparently do not exist.
Dave Ridley had been recording the Finance - Division I Committee during a budget work session on March 13 at 1 p.m., when Chairman and state Rep. Lynne Ober told him to stop under house rules.
Jim Rivers, Director of House Communications, said that there are no such things as house rules.
"It's a public building; it's a public meeting. As long as they're being respectful, they're allowed to film," Rivers said.
Rivers believes that Ober probably now realizes that using so-called house rules to tell someone to stop recording was not okay.
"I requested he stop filming. Before I could point out a more suitable place to film from in the meeting room, he began yelling," Ober told NH1 News.
When a security guard came into the meeting and told him "you can not do that by a request of the chairman," Ridley questioned the guard.
"Can the chairman request censorship?"
The guard responded that he didn't know.
Ridley eventually left the room and spoke with Joe Burke, security chief for general courts, before reentering the session with his camera.
State Rep. Peter Leishman, who is the clerk for the committee, stopped the meeting to say Ridley was "very disruptive to our group."
Ridley asked the state representatives at the hearing if they were against freedom of the press.
"You were politely asked to leave, and I just don't understand your refusal to do so. And if you're not apt enough to take notes and articulate what you've heard, I don't know what kind of press you are, but not very accurate I would say under those terms," said state Rep. Robert Walsh.
Ober asked the other representatives to not become argumentative with Ridley and to continue the hearing.
"It was unfortunate that we were unable to have a dialogue so that he knew a better place to set up for filming, but we were in the middle of a public hearing in a tiny meeting room," Ober told NH1 News.
Burke entered the room and told Ridley to leave, which he ultimately agreed to do. In the hallway outside the room, Burke told Ridley he could stay, but could not record.
"It's not a public hearing," Burke said. "It's not an illegal request if it's house rules."
Ridley believes this restriction violates Article 8 of the NH Constitution, which reads: "All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted."
Rivers said this incident is not likely to happen again.
This incident occurred during Sunshine Week, a national initiative to educate the public about the importance of open government through access to public information.