In Sedalia, city council recording amounts to wiretap crime

Aviation Quality Control Inspector and Sedalia resident Ed Piotrowski recorded a Sedalia City Council meeting and posted it on Facebook without informing council members.

He said he was shocked to find himself charged with a Class H felony by the city’s mayor and other city officials.

Piotrowski said he was amazed at how the board reacted to his posting of a meeting video — which was mostly audio, since the phone’s camera was pointed downward most of the time. At a subsequent meeting, they were furious.

“They said I sneakily recorded the meeting,” he said.

Piotrowski said he was targeted by the all-black council because he was a white man who ran for a city council seat last year.

Only one city council member, Valerie Jones, defended Piotrowski. She recently quit — in part because of that fight.

“It’s a public meeting – a public meeting,” Jones said.

Anyone, Jones said, has the absolute right to record a public meeting — video, audio or both — with or without notifying council members.

After learning that he had committed a crime, Piotrowski requested the contact information for city attorney Albert M. Benshoff.

The city sent Piotrowski the following email: “Below is Attorney Benshoff’s contact information. Also, attached is the GS [NC General Statute] that he sent regarding the public registration inquiry. If you contact him, you might want to check his fees to help you. I’m sure the City will already be billed for their services on this, so I imagine Council won’t want a second charge. He is hired on an as needed basis, so he is paid by the hour.

The law attached to the email, NCGS 15A-287 – “Interception and Disclosure of Prohibited Wire, Oral, or Electronic Communications” – relates to criminal wiretapping.

It reads: “Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person is guilty of a Class H felony if, without the consent of at least one party to the communication, the person…willfully uses, s ‘attempts to use or procures any other person to use or attempt to use any electronic, mechanical or other device to intercept any oral communication…”

Piotrowski said he had met NC State Rep. Jon Hardister before and that Hardister had been a real inspiration to him, so he contacted Hardister to see if it was really a crime.

Hardister emailed state government legal staff: “A constituent of mine asked if it is legal to attend a local city council meeting and videotape comments and then share comments on a social media page. I told him this is perfectly legal, as city council meetings are by nature open to the public and people are welcome to register freely.

Hardister asked the legal staff of the NC General Assembly to comment on the matter. The staff returned the actual relevant law: “[A]Any radio or television station has the right to broadcast all or part of a meeting which is to be public… Any person may photograph, film, record or reproduce any part of a meeting which is to be public.

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