ShareThis Page

Woman's videos of meetings shake up Blawnox Council

Mary Ann Thomas
| Monday, Sept. 6, 2010

A Blawnox woman is winning fans as she turns up the heat on Blawnox officials through videos posted on YouTube.

In a video titled "Obama and Ron Paul Told Me I Can Record Public Meetings of Local Government ...," resident Melina Brajovic argues with council President Sam McNaughton. The debate was sparked by council's requirement that people wanting to videotape meetings must sign in beforehand.

McNaughton blurts out: "You weren't even born in this country. You can't even speak English."

Brajovic, 45, a native of Serbia, responds: "You're saying I'm not as American as you are• I am as or better." And McNaughton replies: "I don't think so."

The exchange between the two is available on computer screens everywhere -- and people are watching.

McNaughton said he doesn't mind people videotaping meetings, but he worries that editing can produce an inaccurate portrayal of what happened.

More than 200 people watched Brajovic 's video last week after she posted it. Another video showing Blawnox council members disagreeing with residents -- titled "Constitution Versus Tyranny, Give Me Liberty or Give me Death, Patrick Henry 1776" -- racked up more than 11,500 views since its posting in early June.

"Because of the social nature of the websites, you can have a community congregate around a posting or a common purpose, whether to hold a local government accountable or rally around a cause," said Kelly McBride, senior faculty member for ethics at the Poynter Institute, a journalism organization in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Brajovic produces videos of council meetings for her Blawnox site on YouTube, and edited videos for a national YouTube site on which she advocates for constitutional and economic issues.

"I want council to be accountable for taking their oath of office," she said.

Brajovic surmises that the video snippets are hot because of general interest in constitutional and free speech matters.

Intentionally or not, Blawnox Council gives her fodder for videos: The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in twice during the past year because of the council's restriction on videotaping and recording public meetings.

On June 14, a borough police officer removed Brajovic from a meeting because she signed in as "Thomas Jefferson" on the log sheet for people intending to record the meeting. Brajovic said she used the signature to protest the restriction, which she wants council to repeal.

People who aren't trained journalists are recording meetings and posting videos and documents online because "they can and because they care," McBride said.

McNaughton questions the accuracy and responsibility of the new social media, especially when people edit segments out of context.

"I don't have a problem, other than the fact they have the right to edit as they want, which makes it not an accurate reflection of what actually happened," he said. Regarding the YouTube video of his argument with Brajovic, McNaughton said: "It's an illegal taping."

He declined further comment because of possible litigation.

The borough revised its restrictions after the ACLU intervened, following complaints that the borough required people to notify officials 24 hours in advance of recording meetings. Brajovic and some other residents still don't like having to sign in and to sit in a designated corner of the meeting room.

The videotapes might prove helpful for evaluating complaints about violations of the state's open-meetings law.

"More importantly, it opens up local government," said Sara Rose, the ACLU attorney who intervened on Brajovic's behalf. "It only helps the transparency of government and people's involvement in their government to access videos of meetings online."

Additional Information:

On the Web

To see a video of the Blawnox Council meeting, go to: and search for 'Blawnox.'

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me