By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau
LITTLE CANADA, Minn. — A man watchdog running for city council on the issue of increased transparency in local government plans to boycott an Oct. 14 League of Women Voters candidate forum due to the group’s ban on video or audio recording by anyone outside of the media.
Andrew Henderson decided to campaign for a seat on the Little Canada City Council, driven by his acquittal on disorderly conduct charges stemming from filming Ramsey County deputies making an arrest in October 2012.
NO CAMERAS, NO CANDIDATE: Andrew Henderson, a man watchdog running for Little Canada City Council, plans to boycott a candidate forum due to the local League of Women Voters boycott on video cameras outside of media.
When he learned about the camera prohibition at two local LWV candidate forums in the past week through Watchdog Minnesota Bureau reports, the 30-year-old welder turned political candidate pulled the plug on his participation.
“In this time of increasing awareness of citizen journalists and First Amendment Rights, it is a great disappointment to me that the League of Women Voters bans cameras and other recording equipment from its candidate forums,” said Henderson in an announcement posted on Facebook. “Thus, in good conscience, I am unable to participate in the Oct. 14 Little Canada City Council Candidates Forum.”
LMV Minnesota forums feature candidates for public office in public events held in public places, usually involving public officials. The ban includes cell phone cameras in the audience.
A respected former state representative now involved with the League of Women Voters concedes the days of prohibiting cameras at candidate forums may be on the way out.
“He’s (Henderson) a nobody, in terms of credentialed media, but he’s got a point when it comes to today’s interpretation of the First Amendment,” said former Rep. Mindy Greiling in an interview with Watchdog Minnesota Bureau.
Henderson contacted LWV’s Roseville, Falcon Heights and Maplewood chapter regarding its policy on video and audio recording of candidate forums. A local official indicated “the LWV must uphold the state-level policy banning cameras, except for credentialed media,” according to Henderson’s news release.
“No matter what its policy is, the First Amendment protects the rights of citizen journalists and others to film and record under these circumstances. It’s not like you are sneaking a camera into some private, invitation-only event,” said Henderson.
The so-called cop-watcher’s boycott, along with disruptions at recent LWV candidate forums in Edina and Minnetonka, has led to internal discussions among local and state members over the increasingly controversial policy. The state organization leaves it up to local chapters to decide whether to allow access, according to Greiling.
“I think he’s making a mountain out of a molehill, but I also think the league, all the local leagues and the state, need to get coordinated on this, as well, and up to date on what media has evolved into,” said Greiling. “Any one person can call themselves a journalist if they have a camera or a blog.”
A member of the Roseville, Falcon Heights and Maplewood LWV chapter, Greiling appeared to concede that cameras must be allowed into future events, including the candidate forum in Little Canada.
STANDBY: The League of Women Voters Minnesota leaves it up to local chapters to make the final call on whether to ban cameras and audio recording of public forums in public places for candidates for office.
“We would prefer that people not do that, but we are aware that if push came to shove, the First Amendment would allow them to do that,” said Greiling. “So, we’re not going to get into a pissing contest over it…and the candidates who are big boys and girls if they decided to be candidates, can deal with it accordingly.”
The LWV’s tacit acknowledgement on access to its public forums would seem to pave the way for Henderson to participate in the forum after all, but Watchdog hasn’t heard back from Henderson on another attempt to contact him before publication.