Sergeant-at-arms confiscates reporter's recorder

Posted May 20, 2014

Rose Hoban, a reporter for N.C. Health News, shows the recorder that was confiscated by the Senate Sergant at Arms.

— The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Office confiscated the recorder of a reporter during an open Senate Commerce Committee meeting Tuesday, after the committee chairman made an announcement that runs counter to North Carolina's open meetings statute. 

"One other housekeeping (item), if I may. As a courtesy, all individuals with recording devices, whether audio or video, are required to be approved by the sergeant-at-arms," Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, said roughly 45 minutes into the two-hour meeting. 

A minute or so after that announcement, Rose Hoban, a reporter with North Carolina Health News, noticed that her recorder, which she had placed on a side table, was missing.

"I've never been restricted from recording before," said Hoban, who was a reporter for WUNC Radio before starting N.C. Health News in 2011. 

She had to leave the meeting to retrieve her recorder. During the interim, several reporters asked questions about the action and announcement over social media. WRAL News asked Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office whether there was some sort of new policy. A spokeswoman for Berger referred questions back to Gunn. 

Mike Tadych, a lawyer who works for a number of media outlets, said the state's open meetings laws provides that they may be recorded.

"Presuming that you're in a meeting that's to be open under North Carolina law, there should be no additional requirement to have recording equipment approved," Tadych said.

Members of the press who have covered the legislature for years cannot remember such a rule being enforced. 

Gunn could not cite a building rule or law that would have justified his announcement. 

"The sergeant-at-arms department just likes people to identify," he said.

Asked a followup question about how that might be a legal request, Gunn walked away, referring questions to the sergeant-at-arms.

However, during a committee meeting, the sergeant-at-arms staff work at the direction of the committee chairman.

Pressed a third time, with several more reporters watching, and asked specifically why he authorized a recorder to be confiscated, Gunn said, "I was simply, I thought – I think everyone should be open, and I certainly did not in any way intend cause that." 

Philip King, the Senate sergeant-at-arms who oversees the staff that works during meetings, said he could not speak immediately as to why the recorder was taken or what happened during the committee meeting. He did say that his staff had been more vigilant after recorders were discovered in meeting rooms before and after committees were convened. 

"We have had situations where we thought the recording device was placed there at a time that was not a public meeting," King said, worried that the objective might be to catch a lawmaker in an off-the-cuff moment.

Later in the day, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the Senate Rules chairman, confirmed there was no building rule or other legislative rule that would required reporters or members of the public to register their recording devices with the sergeant at arms staff. He confirmed King's statement that there had been concerns about people leaving recording devices and other equipment around the building, but no rule banned taping meeting. 

Apodaca said Gunn "misinterpreted" those concerns, leading to his actions Tuesday. 


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  • Matt Wood May 21, 2014
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    If they're saying things that can be used against them, do you really want to defend them? if they have nothing to hide, why are they worried?

  • dwntwnboy2 May 21, 2014

    They don't want the public in the building, they don't want the public to speak if they DO get in the building and they don't want any record of their meetings without prior consent and registration- glad they work FOR the people.....oh, wait, they don't. They work for their corporate masters who just want them to roll back environmental laws and regulations so they can get a few more million in profit while pollute at will. Must be nice to be able to afford to buy congress critters.

  • thinkfirsttypelater May 21, 2014

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    The better question is why a state senator is ignorant of established NC law.

  • goldenosprey May 21, 2014

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    She should have also turned over her writing to the State for approval before publishing too, right?

  • Tim Kelly May 21, 2014
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    So, you are stating that the "conservative majority" should not be held accountable for what they say? So like, they are now royalty or something? "Thou shall not besmirch the King and his Court!!"

  • teleman60 May 21, 2014

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    We can only get rid of them WHEN the clueless who voted them in get their heads out of the sand.

    We are already in $400 million (and climbing) budget shortfall because of CUTTING TAXES without figuring how much it takes to run the state.

    Just like 14 years ago in Washington with GWB. They come in to a surplus and within a few years IT'S ALL GONE AN THE DEBTS INCREASE BECAUSE OF TAX CUTS!!!

  • 50s Child May 21, 2014

    "The sergeant-at-arms department just likes people to identify," he said.

    Likes people to identify? What does that fragment mean? I like people to stay off my lawn, but the staffer likes people to identify.....what, exactly?

    Are incomplete sentences, like deliberately omitting punctuation in a blog post, some hip, cool way of expressing yourself? What a joke.

    I'd sure like to know more about the sequence of events leading to the reporter's device being seized without her knowledge. Did she walk away and the staffer picked it up? Was she sitting right there but distracted? This seems a bit thin.

  • TTCP May 21, 2014

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    Yes....yes we can get rid of the liberal democrats & IS needed .
    BTW, I've been( & presently ) a registered democrat for 30 yrs.

  • goldenosprey May 21, 2014

    What were they trying to hide from us?


  • archmaker May 21, 2014

    when you have a legislature where 60% have less than two years legislative experience, this is what you get.

    well, this and bills that try to let cities and counties establish official religions in north carolina.