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.
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.
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.
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.