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Woman kicked out of Town Council meeting for recording it

Winfield Town Council proposes an ordinance banning public recording of meetings, but tables the ordinance awaiting advice from the West Virginia Ethics Commission. (WCHS/WVAH)

As a Division of Natural Resources representative began addressing Winfield Town Council Tuesday, Mayor Randy Barrett interrupted him.

“Excuse me, wait a minute, we’re not filming in here,” Barrett said to Tiffani Armstrong, who was recording the meeting on her phone.

“I’m allowed to film,” Armstrong replied on the video she sent to Eyewitness News.

Armstrong told Barrett the town’s ordinance banning public recording of meetings hadn’t passed yet so she had the right to film it.

Barrett said she was disrupting the meeting and gave her an ultimatum.

“I’m going to ask you one more time, or we’re going to have you removed,” he said on the video.

Armstrong left.

“I was sitting in the back away from people. Wasn’t in the way,” she said in a later interview, “I didn’t understand how you could ask me to leave for not actually disrupting the meeting.”

Barrett said council members want to limit public recording of their open meetings to legitimate news sources because some fear the recordings could be manipulated.

“I don’t want people editing something and taking pieces out of something and putting it together, and make them say something,” he said.

The problem: banning public recordings could be illegal.

West Virginia's open meeting laws explicitly grant media the right to record any open meeting, and the West Virginia Ethics Commission said the public can too.

Barrett said the Ethics Commission’s guidelines are not legally binding, so the council doesn’t have to follow them.

Armstrong strongly disagrees.

“The Ethics Commission tells you what’s ethical and what’s unethical. If you’re saying you’re not going to follow that, then you’re not being ethical," Armstrong said.

Barrett’s response to that was directed at Armstrong.

“I just look at the source and don’t worry about that,” he said.

Barrett said council has tabled the recording ban until its town attorney can get an official opinion on it from the Ethics Commission.

The council expects a response within a month.

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