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Aldermen could ban smartphones during meetings


Carl Smith



Starkville aldermen are expected to discuss a resolution Tuesday that would ban public attendees from using cell phones, tablets and laptops during board meetings effective Dec. 3. 


A copy of the resolution obtained by the Dispatch would address increasing distractions caused by those who operate such devices by prohibiting them inside the city courtroom. If approved, citizens would be forced to pass through a metal detector before entering the board meeting. Those found in violation of the rule may be asked to leave. A Starkville Police Department representative will enforce compliance. 


Officials may continue using city-issued iPads to facilitate discussions, and the media may also continue using electronic devices to report board business, the resolution states. The exemptions, however, do not apply to "Internet bloggers or anyone engaged in purely social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc." 


Numerous members of Starkville's city government, including Mayor Parker Wiseman and Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn, were away on conference in Seattle, Wash. Friday and unavailable for comment. As of press time, it is unknown who pushed the motion forward to Tuesday's agenda. 


The Dispatch, which attends each Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting, has not observed any such disruptions caused by individuals using smart phones or electronic devices since the new board took over July 1. Since that date, the Dispatch has observed minor breaks in protocol during board meetings, mainly from constituents going past their allotted time during the public comment period. 


The city has begun live streaming aldermen meetings on the city's website in this current board's term. 


It is unknown as of press time if Wiseman will veto the measure if it presented and passed Tuesday. 


Multiple public constituents, including those comprising Starkville Thinks, a grassroots collective aiming to shed light upon local governance issues, have live tweeted city board meetings since the new board of aldermen took over. When contacted about the potential board order, former alderman Sandra Sistrunk and Starkville resident Chris Gottbrath -- two residents who have live tweeted aldermen meetings -- both said the potential new rule would stifle public discourse. 


"Live tweeting events, especially governmental meetings, is very common. Blogging is part of the world - it's a cornerstone of democracy," Gottbrath said of the potential ramifications to public's ability to live tweet board meetings. 


"I'm still stuck on the part of how it's disruptive. I think something being disruptive is something that calls attention to itself. I can't define exactly what a distraction is, but I know one when I see one; (live tweeting) is not a distraction; that's why the mayor has the gavel," added Sistrunk, Ward 2's former alderman. "Having sat on the other side of the board and seen far worse in distractions --people talking, that sort of thing -- I don't see where this is a distraction. I've never been approached about it besides one official saying, 'You're killing us with your tweets.'"


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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