After a Tennessean local beat writer announced via Twitter that rules were being considered to muffle the people's mezzanine area outside of Metro Council chambers on council meeting nights, I e-mailed the Metro Clerk with the following questions:
I am curious as to what past events precipitated the change in council rules to limit citizen events in the Courthouse and to disallow broadcasts from those events? Could you please e-mail me the minutes from the executive committee meeting where these rule changes are being considered? Who is sponsoring this rules change? Am I correct in concluding that the media will no longer be allowed to broadcast citizen views of pending council action from inside the Courthouse if these rules are approved? Is it fair to say that the media would be limited to live broadcasting only council member opinions on council meeting nights given that the mezzanine would be off limits?
The Metro Clerk responded thusly:
No Council rules have been amended to disallow broadcasts or limit citizen events on Council meeting nights. The discussion that occurred was focused on activities on the 2nd floor mezzanine of the Courthouse, which is the space between the Metropolitan Clerk's Office/Council Chamber on the east end of the Historic Courthouse and the Council Office on the west end of the floor on the second floor .... The purpose of the discussion was to address safety, security, and disruption factors in that second floor area.
Inasmuch as the acoustics in that space are improved only minimally with amplification and loud amplification (such as used for tax sales) can be very distracting, it was recommended that no amplification be allowed at any time in the mezzanine area. Further, on Council meeting nights, because the Council convenes 30 minutes in advance of its start time for Councilmember announcements , it was recommended that all such events on the mezzanine conclude at least 30 minutes prior to the Council meeting start time.
There was no suggestion that interviews, either with the public or Councilmembers, could not occur in the Metropolitan Courthouse. Whether or not it would be beneficial to have a convenient, designated area for interviews was mentioned, but more thought will be given to this idea before any recommendation is considered.
Live broadcast of radio or television programs from within the Courthouse, during the progress of a Council meeting was discussed. Again, this was not referring to interviews, but to live broadcasts of programs. The Sheriff, who now oversees Courthouse security, will be drafting a policy regarding this, from the standpoint of safety and security issues, as there has been concern about the crowded area on the east end of the mezzanine, including the space at the top of a long flight of marble stairs where traffic backs up , both before and during Council meetings. To my knowledge, no policy has yet been issued.
The group that assembled for this discussion was persons involved with the Council and with Courthouse safety and security. Among those present were Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors, Council attorney Jon Cooper, Sheriff Daron Hall, Metropolitan Clerk Marilyn Swing, representatives of Metro3, and support staff. The meeting was convened at this time because of the concerns stated and so that policies could be considered and, if necessary, put in place before any specific requests for future event scheduling are received.
In an interview with the Tennessean this morning Vice Mayor Neighbors, who I suspected of being the force behind these control measures the minute I learned of the news, indicated that the rest of us need to be "more respectful of the meetings in progress." As if the meetings have nothing to do with the rest of us.
Live broadcasting or organized efforts to influence council action in public space outside of the narrow lens of Metro 3 and the compulsory strictures of council hearing podiums do not impinge upon any civic process outside of Ms. Neighbors own draconian control issues. There are plenty of measures for safety and security in the mezzanine stairwell to consider without empowering Sheriff Daron Hall to cordon off "free speech" zones far away from the Metro machine.