It appears our Warren County Commission does indeed have a last nerve. And Commissioner Michael Shane Wilcher has found it.
Wilcher has been active in back-to-back days, first getting kicked out of a county Health and Welfare Committee meeting Tuesday before causing a Highway and Bridge Committee meeting to never get started Wednesday because of his video camera.
It is Wilcher’s trusty video camera which is creating so much aggravation. In talking with county commissioners I see in my travels throughout the community, they are tired of having a video recorder shoved in their faces at every turn. Sure, they are elected officials, but they believe it’s a blatant attempt to make them look bad. And the officials I’ve talked to don’t appreciate one of their fellow commissioners being such a disruptive force.
Wilcher says otherwise in his reason for operating under the mantra “thou shall record everything.”
Said Wilcher, “I believe our local government can be productive without being secretive to the people or threatening the people we serve … People always want transparency, accountability, responsiveness, fiscal sound policies, care, and compassion … Most people don’t know the extent that local government fails them.”
I’ve long campaigned for the need for open government and making government decisions in full view of the public. There’s no way to hold our government officials accountable if they are allowed to make decisions in secret.
That said, I believe Wilcher has the right attitude, but wrong approach. Making everyone irate to the point where they don’t even want to hold a meeting – canceling the meeting before it begins – can’t be considered positive change. It’s never a good idea to be the pesky fly everyone wants to swat.
Outside of that, it’s simply eerie to go around videotaping everything, public meeting or not. It makes people question your motives and wonder what you plan to do with such recordings. Are you just waiting to catch them saying something that can interpreted the wrong way?
Wilcher maintains what he’s doing falls under open meeting guidelines and my familiarity with the Sunshine Law indicates he’s right. Just to make sure, I called the Tennessee Press Association attorney Thursday to see if there are any restrictions to videotaping public meetings and was told a Tennessee municipality did try to prevent videotaping open meetings but that effort was defeated in court.
“I don't care what some elected officials may think of me,” said Wilcher. “The people matter. That’s all. The rest will work itself out. Or, I’ll fail miserably.”
At this point, it’s hard to determine if this is a work in progress or a miserable fail. Wilcher says he wants what’s best for the county, but he’s certainly not concerned about harmony on the Warren County Commission.
Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.