Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Oconee Republican Committee Decides To Prohibit Note-Taking At And Recording Of Its Meetings By Media

***Effective Immediately***

The Oconee County Republican Party Executive Committee has placed severe restrictions on media coverage of its meetings, starting with the one on Thursday and running through the election in November.

Tammy Gilland, chair of the local party organization, said that media representatives are allowed to attend the next three party meetings but that they are not allowed to record the meetings in any way and not allowed to take any notes.

Gilland said the recording and note-taking prohibition “will apply to all media.”

Michael Prochaska, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, said today (Tuesday) that he has not been notified of the media prohibition, and Lee Shearer, who covers Oconee County for the Athens Banner-Herald, said today that neither he, reporter Wayne Ford, nor editor Donnie Fetter received the notice.

Gilland communicated the policy to me in a personal email message she sent me at 7:06 p.m. yesterday.

Gilland said the local organization will use part of its meeting “to strategize with our Republican candidates for State Senate, State House, and local school board. This will be sensitive information that we do not want shared with the opposition.”

Charles Bullock, a distinguished political science professor at the University of Georgia, is the guest speaker at Thursday’s meeting, which will be held at 6:30 pm at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.

Executive Committee

I am the only journalist who regularly covers local party meetings. When I cannot attend, Sarah Bell, Penny Mills or another person video records the meetings and provides me with a copy of the video.

Gilland With Commissioner John Daniell
At GOP Open House 8/14/18

Videos are stored at the Oconee County Observations Vimeo Site on the Channel for Candidate Forums, Political Meetings and Political Events. (It is possible to Follow that channel or the entire site by clicking on the Follow button on the top, right, of the respective Vimeo page.)

Gilland, who is executive director of Philanthropy with Piedmont Athens Regional Foundation, copied her message to me to members of her Executive Committee.

These are Melvin Davis, first vice chair, Vince Frankson, second vice chair, Brooks Fletcher, third vice chair, Kate McDaniel, secretary, and Kent Chapman treasurer.

Gilland also copied Bell, who is not a member of the Executive Committee but who has long been active in the Oconee County Republican Party.

Applies To All Media

Gilland stated in a series of email message stretching across last night and this morning, that the policy applied not just to me but “to all media.”

Davis, former Oconee County Board of Commissioners chair, is the only member of the Executive Committee who has weighed in on that exchange.

“We have been more than transparent over the past 2 years,” Gilland wrote to me late today. “I don’t know of another local GOP that has their meetings video-taped.”

“Good response,” Davis wrote to Gilland in reply.

Gilland told me when she sent her initial email that she will not be at the meeting Thursday night because she will be attending a meeting of the Georgia Hospital Association.

Expansion Of Policy

The Executive Committee policy is an expansion of restrictions placed on me beginning in December of last year.

At that time, I was told I would be able to record the first part of meetings and would have to stop recording when the businsess meeting began.

No restrictions were placed on my note taking during the business meeting.

In the memo addressed to me and attached to her email message of last night, Gilland said “We plan to use the last 30 minutes of our meetings to strategize with our Republican candidates.”

She did not explain why the new restrictions would apply to the entire meeting.

“We appreciate you covering the Oconee County Republican meetings,” Gilland wrote in that memo. “We have had some very good speakers over the past year and you have been instrumental in helping them share their messages.”

“We look forward to having you cover our meetings again in November,” she wrote.

Gilland said the policy was that of the party Executive Committee.

My Interpretation Of Media

I wrote to Gilland this morning indicating that I did not consider myself covered by her policy, since I do not represent a media organization.

I told her I was simply a citizen who attends meetings and writes about them.

Gilland responded that my posts also appear on Oconee Patch and in flagpole.

I told her that I submit the summary of my articles to Oconee Patch but do not control their use. Any citizen can do the same.

Flagpole also occasionally does pick up the summary of my stories, but I do not submit them and do not control their use.

The same is true for WUGA.

I receive no compensation from any of these organizations for these materials.

Bullock Presentation

Gilland usually sends me notices about upcoming meetings, but she did not notify me of the meeting on Thursday or of speaker Bullock, who is a professional colleague of mine.

I asked Bullock via an email message today if he knew in advance of the media ban. I have not heard back from him.

I have told Gilland and members of the Executive Committee that I plan to attend the meeting on Thursday night and write a story about it. I said I could do a better job if I were allowed to record and take notes.

I also said I would honor any request applied to everyone in the room regarding video recording and note taking.

The meeting is open to the public but on private property.

As I interpret the law, the Executive Committee can ask anyone to abide by any set of rules that are not against discrimination law and its interpretation.

It also can ask anyone present to leave.


Dan Magee said...

What a complete & utter embarrassment

Not surprised Melvin Davis condones & supports such nonsense

If you have nothing to hide, then hide nothing

Lee, you provide an invaluable service, consistently thoughtful and non partisan, sorry you have to deal with such impediments to keeping the public informed

Anonymous said...

Dr. Becker-I apologize for the lack of hospitality to join the party meeting and discuss the political issues of our community.
As a Republican, I am embarrassed of the slight for no good reason. Your video and report would preserve the moment in our election cycle.

Many, many years ago my parents drove people to the polls. Some folks did not have the means. It was not asked what party you were voting for- but you were proud to be part of a process called voting.

I love this county, this State and this Country. It took some punches tonight from the usual corner of ignorance and bullying.
Thank you for believing in our nation, the founders and framers of the Constitution.
Our county is very fortunate to have you and your staff reporting on varied issues in Oconee.
Very Disappointed,
Oconee Voter

Michael Prochaska said...

I will go on the record saying I do not agree with this policy. But I do think people who read Lee's work would consider him a crucial part of the media landscape. Not being paid doesnt disqualify him from being labeled media. And in the 21st century, a blog is just as relevant as a nrwspaper.

Unknown said...

Unfortunately King Trump is making his presence in our county via Gilland.

Vicki Krugman said...

Here is another example of people who live in fear by hiding information from the public. The Oconee County Republicans are reacting to the growing interest in the elections and what is happening in our local Republican government positions by its citizens. Lee Becker is a citizen that cares about transparency in government and politics. We are fortunate that he expects officials to be accountable for their words and actions. However Oconee ‘s Republicans are continuing to try and hide behind closed doors, but those days are over. Lee Becker is not the only citizen for transparency.

Anonymous said...

WOW! I'll be interested to learn more about their new suppression 'rule' and how it applies to any private citizen. Evidently "freedom of the press" is out the window, too.
Since the public is welcomed to the meeting, campaign strategy could not be confidential unless all non-candidates and non-committee members are asked to leave for that last 30 minutes. One would think secret campaign strategies would be discussed elsewhere anyway.

Anonymous said...

Just seeing the name Melvin Davis, first vice chair on Tammy Gilland's Oconee Co. Republican Party Executive Committee causes repulsion.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Germany, circa 1935, good gullible neighbors and fellow Oconee residents.

Keep those stick-on window flags flying, yessir!!!

Lee Becker said...


I apologize for being slow to respond to your comment.

We don't have good language for the new media landscape, to use your words. Things I write certainly do appear in established media outlets. As I wrote in this post, I don't control what others do with what I write. I don't even control whether they give me credit.

My point is that I have never asserted any rights as a representative of a media organization, because I am not a representative of a media organization. Everything I do is based on my being a citizen.

I certainly am an observer, a writer, and a reporter. These are activities generally referred to as journalism. I view journalism as an act of citizenship, and what I do is based on my citizenship rather than my association with any media organization.

When I worked as a journalist for a media organization almost 50 years ago, I needed that or some other organization to practice journalism. I don't need any organization to do journalism today.

That is a major change in the media landscape.

Thanks for the comment.


Xardox said...

This move was made without good input from the OC GOP membership.
I am very agreed that this was a poor decision and an error for more than one reason: The Party has nothing to "hide," it was done without wider discussion, and the optics are simply horrible.
The reasoning was that in this election season meetings may be discussing winning tactics. If the meetings were in fact for this reason, the decision makes good sense. However, this past Thursday's meeting was not.
It is not "Tammy Gilland's Oconee Co. Republican Party."
Lastly, the decision under discussion was rescinded a day before the meeting.
I have been looking for that to also be reported here.

Lee Becker said...


I reported the change in the story about the meeting itself. I did not make it a prominent part of the story. I was allowed to record. I did so. I wrote about the speaker.

I didn't learn of the change until the day before. I explained the role Sarah Bell seems to have played.

I do not control what Patch does with my posts. I put them on the site. The editors do what they want. I didn't send that out three times. I don't send out anything from Patch. The editors decide what to put in the daily feeds. I merely post to the site itself.