Student ejected for videotaping Chavez board meeting
May 15, 2008 3:46 PM
SF State student Brian Gallagher is a bit frustrated these days, although it’s not the workload associated with finals or the looming budget cuts that are bothering him.
The focal point of his concern is a certain student governing board at SF State, the history and political science major said.
After being told to leave a public meeting put on by the Cesar Chavez Student Center Governing Board, the self-described “student-activist” has voiced his concern over what he called the “inability to allow students to participate in issues that may concern them” by the SCGB.
A letter sent to the student chairperson of the SCGB, Maria Liliana Cortes, informing her of his intent to videotape the proceedings of an April 24 meeting went largely ignored, said Gallagher, who wrote and sent the letter.
Subsequently, University Police were called to the Student Center by the SCGB to remove Gallagher, who was videotaping the proceeding as promised.
Gallagher called the incident “humiliating” and “alarming,” and he believes his rights as a student were violated.
The purpose of the Student Center Governing Board is to provide guidance for management tasked with day-to-day operations of the Student Center, according to Derek J. Aitken, the associate director for Governmental and Community Relations at SF State.
The SCGB is comprised of students and members of the SF State administration.
Gallagher’s 500-word letter cites what he perceives to be his legal right to record the meetings for public benefit.
“The public agenda [to be discussed] lists items regarding the Department of Public Safety and costs associated with services provided by the DPS...I believe this item is of crucial interest [for students] who feel that such a fee is unwarranted and unsubstantiated,” he said in the letter, which was addressed to Cortes.
Cortes, who initially requested that Gallagher stop videotaping the meeting, did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails requesting comment, and transcripts of the April 24 meeting and its agenda were not made available as of press time.
Aitken supported the board’s decision to call police once Gallagher refused to turn off his video camera.
Aitken said in an e-mail that he supports the Student Center management’s interpretation of open meeting laws and their actions on April 24.
The SCGB Web site states that all meetings “are open to the public and will comply with the Open Meeting Act.”
The most widely used open meeting laws used by government organizations are the Gloria Romero Open Meetings Act of 2000 and the more recent Bagley-Keene Act of 2004.
The Bagley-Keene Act specifically states the right of attendees to record public meeting proceedings, so long as they do not create a nuisance. While the provisions of the Gloria Romero Act regarding videotaping public meetings remain ambiguous, Gallagher said, the board purposely chooses to restrict public access to the laws of which they adhere to.
Despite requests made by [X]press, certain bylaws that the SCGB adheres to regarding public access to their meetings were not provided by board members.
“They leave the rules of these meetings purposely vague and ambiguous,” Gallagher said. “[Is] an organization that is intended to serve students supposed to call the police on them once they show interest in school-related issues?”
Sharef Al Najjar, who serves on the SCGB as a community relations member, acknowledged Gallagher’s grievances.
“There are some board members who are uncomfortable with him videotaping because of how the videotape will be used...although I didn’t find him to be a nuisance at all,” he said in a telephone interview.
Gallagher, who is calling for a formal public apology from the SCGB and the SF State administration over the way he was treated, has called the board’s overall approach toward the incident on April 24 as “arbitrary and heavy-handed.”
“It seems as though the SCGB is not willing to pay attention to matters involving students...it seems like they don’t want to listen to me or anyone else,” he said.
Members of the board did not answer requests for comment.
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