Thursday, June 24, 2021

Sheriff Hale To Talk About Public Safety In Oconee County At GOP Meeting On Monday; Party Leader To Talk About New Group

***Party Chair Bans Recording Of Session***

The Oconee County Republican Party is scheduled to meet on Monday with Sheriff James Hale and party Executive Committee Member Julie Mauck as guest speakers.

Hale will talk about the state of public safety in Oconee County, according to the party announcement, while Mauck will talk about formation of a local chapter of Moms for Liberty.

The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Oconee Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive, Watkinsville.

Under a new policy announced by Party Chair Kathy Hurley on Monday, the party “will not allow recording or videotaping of its meetings by outside parties.”

Hurley said the party intends to videotape the monthly meetings for internal use and will provide a press release and possibly video clips after the meeting.

Hale And Mauck

Hale took over as sheriff in January following the November 2020 election and, in March, was confronted with the murder of RaceTrac sales clerk Elijah Wood.

Announcement On Party Facebook Page

No arrests have been made in the murder, which took place in the early hours of March 19 at the convenience store and filling station at the intersection of U.S. 441 and Hog Mountain Road.

Mauck told me in an email message on Wednesday that the charter for the Oconee County chapter of Moms for Liberty was approved on June 2 and “we currently have more than 30 members signed up” and more than 160 Facebook followers.

Moms for Liberty “welcomes all moms, dads, grandparents, and community members that have a desire to stand up for parental rights at all levels of government,” according to the group’s web site.

Mauck said the first meeting of the local chapter will be on July 20 at an as yet undetermined location.

Email From Hurley

I received an email message from Hurley at 8:35 a.m. on Monday informing me of her decision not to allow me to record GOP meetings.

I have been recording meetings of both parties since I began this news blog in 2006, and I am the only journalist who covers the meetings.

“As you are aware, the leadership of the Oconee County Republican Party changed in April following elections at our County Convention,” Hurley wrote.

“Since that time there has been some concerns voiced to me, as the new chairman, by members of our group in regard to the videotaping of each of our monthly meetings,” she wrote.

Hurley said that she understands “that due to health concerns you are unable to attend our meetings so the videotape has become very important to you in regards to your ability to continue to provide accurate reporting to your readers.”

The May meeting of the party was the Watkinsville Candidate Forum, “and no one from our organization found the recording of a debate which was open to the public, and advertised as such, as objectionable,” Hurley wrote.

Future Plans

Hurley wrote that “moving forward the structure of our meetings will comprise both speakers (elected officials, candidates, other relevant speakers) as well as planning/strategy sessions and some meetings will have a good mixture of both.

“In the past our meetings have typically begun with a ‘public’ portion and then segued to the ‘private’ portion at which time recording would cease,” she continued.

“Unfortunately, I cannot commit that each meeting going forward will conform to that structure, therefore the Oconee County Republican Party will not allow recording or videotaping of its meetings by outside parties,” Hurley wrote.

“It is our intention to videotape the monthly meetings for internal use and we will be happy to provide a press release, and when possible videotape of public statements, to you and other members of the media after each monthly meeting,” Hurley wrote.

“I appreciate your understanding in this matter,” Hurley said in closing.

My Response

I wrote to Hurley and told her I understood and accepted her right to ban recording since the meeting takes place in a private facility.

I told her that under an agreement with past chairs Tammy Gilland and Steven Strickland I had stopped recording when requested to do so.

As Hurley wrote, meetings in the past had been structured to include a section for public presentation and a section for party internal discussions.

I also explained that I had attended meetings in the past, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and that the late Sarah Bell had recorded for me when I could not attend.

Philip Ashford had recorded the Watkinsville candidate forum for me last month and had agreed to record the session with Hale and Mauck on Monday.

I also told Hurley that I am not part of the “media” but rather am an Oconee County citizen who uses social media to provide journalist accounts of things I observe.

Importance Of Video

I earned a journalism degree from the University of Kentucky and worked as a professional journalist briefly for four daily newspapers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer.

I subsequently earned a doctorate in the social science field of communication and spent most of my career as an academic, teaching and conducting research about journalism.

One my areas of research focused on how journalists and journalistic organizations work and how they make decisions about news.

When I began this blog, I incorporated my insights from that research into my own work.

I quickly realized the power of even a primitive video recording, both as a way of improving the accuracy of my accounts, as Hurley noted, and of documenting my accounts.

Inexpensive recording devices were not available when I worked as a professional journalist.

Journalism And Stenography

Journalism is not stenography.

The latter records events in detail in the order of their occurrence.

A journalistic account is a narrative.

The journalist selects out what she or he feels is important–or “newsworthy”–and then creates an account around those subjective decisions.

I always told my students they should think of what others attending the same meeting or event would say in a single sentence to summarize what they observed. The account should be organized around that answer.

Obviously, there are going to be differences in journalistic accounts as people do see things differently.

Embedded Video

The video is a powerful tool, I came to understand, both as a way of documenting my account as well as allowing anyone who wants to ignore my account to view the video independently.

Consequently, I began embedding the full video at the bottom of my accounts and have continued that habit in my reporting.

Had Ashford been allowed to record the meeting on Monday for me, I would have summarized what Hale and Mauck had said and provided the video for readers to watch on their own.

When my doctor advises me that she feels comfortable–given my immunocompromised status–that I can safely attend meetings inside buildings, I will return to GOP meetings in person and write my accounts--minus the assistance of video and audio recordings.


Tripp Lemmonds said...

This is only being done due to the family and friends of Elijah Wood had planned to be there to ask the sheriff questions. We don't feel the case is being given full attention. I mean he didn't even post anything on the sheriff Facebook on the 3 month anniversary. Also on several medias, podcast and the news, the sheriff has told people they can donate to Elijah's reward thru his sheriff fund. But those donations go toward other cases. Which is fine, but it should have never been said using Elijah's name. The community already showed a lot of love and support to the family and we know people are donating and have thinking it'll all go to Elijah's reward. But it ain't. Plus the public has no access to what's in the funds account. So who knows what's in their it where it goes, but the sheriff. There is many other reasons we are looking faith in the case being solved. We are scared they will let it go silent if we don't keep it out there in the public. But if you speak against the sheriff, you get blocked and kicked off public pages. The entire family and many others are even having their comments censored on the public Oconee county sheriff page. But they allow all others to comment anything. We get censored when we ask questions about Elijah. You know the sheriff hasnt even called the family or any investigators to let them know they are on the case. Or even ask how we are doing. It's so much different now since Scott Berry is gone. I feel sorry for Zoconee county.

Eric Gisler said...

Dr. Becker, I think I speak for the whole OC Democratic Committee when I say that we value the service you provide to the county and you will always be welcome to attend and record our meetings.

Jim Gaither said...

Lee, I hope your immune system soon improves so you can get back in the field.

I've never heard of Moms for Liberty so I took a quick look around the internet.

According to their home page, MfL's stated goals are to 'Hold Leaders Accountable', 'Promote Liberty', and 'Oppose Government Overreach' through activism and elections.

From news items and their twitter feed, they can be a contentious group. They want to participate freely in school board meetings, with no limits on what they say or how long it takes them to say it. They talk a lot about First Amendment rights, mainly in the context of how theirs are being infringed. They don't speak well of masks, vaccinations, critical race theory, LBTQ students, or elected officials.

I suppose they mean well but I suspect the Oconee branch is being formed more with an eye to next year's elections than improving local education. Maybe I'm wrong and they plan a similar presentation for Oconee Dems.