PISCATAWAY, NJ – Tess Borden, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) issued a letter to Piscataway Councilwoman, Chanelle McCullum, Mayor Brian Wahler and members of the Piscataway Township Council advising how an ordinance that requires advanced approval to record public meetings is unlawful and violates residents’ right to free speech.
Borden sent the letter on Wednesday on behalf of Piscataway resident, Staci Berger who she said attempted to use her iPhone to video record the public comment portion of a recent council meeting to share with others who could not attend, but was instructed to stop and threatened to be removed by police and sanctioned.
“It has come to our attention that, on Dec. 19, 2017, a resident of Piscataway Township was precluded from exercising her free speech and common law right to videotape the Township Council meeting,” Borden stated in her letter.
“I write to inform you that Piscataway Township Code § 2-6.4(m) is unlawful and that any penalization of individuals’ right to record public meetings is impermissible,” she continued. “The Council should immediately cease enforcing this provision, including through the extraordinary method of police action as provided in § 2-6.4(k), and guarantee that the resident threatened on Dec. 19 will not face sanction.”
Berger attended the meeting along with other residents to address the council in the public comment section with their concerns about a proposed warehouse development project, said Borden.
Borden requested that the Piscataway Township Council make changes to the ordinance and provide written confirmation of the following:
“1) Confirmation that members of the public may use non-disruptive recording devices without limitation as to number, and without providing notice or copies to the Council or other entities.
2) Confirmation that § 2-6.4(m) will be immediately revised in accordance with this letter and that the remainder of § 2-6, or the chapter and Code more generally, will be reviewed for compliance with constitutional, common law, and statutory rights.
3) Confirmation that until such revisions are implemented, the public will be able to exercise the right to record and that no person will be arrested under § 2- 6.4(k), or otherwise sanctioned, for exercising that right.
4) Confirmation that the Township Council will correct the impression given by past practice by advising those in attendance at the January 2 Reorganization Meeting and the January 9 Regular Meeting about the right of public access to government proceedings, and that this advisement will be reflected in both the published agenda and meeting minutes.”
Borden also requested the council give their response by Jan. 10th.
The full letter, which was also sent to the township’s attorney, James Clarkin for his review can be read here: https://www.aclu-nj.org/index.php?cID=1257.
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