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Alabama town bans media, out-of-towners from meetings

PAINT ROCK, Ala. (AP) — A tiny Alabama town is trying to ban the media and out-of-towners from its council meetings.

The Jackson County Sentinel reported that the town of Paint Rock issued written rules earlier this year that prohibit media members and non-residents from attending Town Council meetings without prior approval of the members.

The rules also prohibit anyone from recording meetings and state that posting “any Town minutes, email to council members, financial statements, etc., to ANY unauthorized media source is strictly forbidden.”

Mayor Brenda Fisk, quoted in an editorial in the newspaper, said: “What goes on in Paint Rock is the business of the people who live in Paint Rock.”

“I really don’t see the benefit for anyone outside of Paint Rock or who doesn’t own property here to come to these meetings. They’re open to anyone who lives here. Anyone else can stand outside the door, but I can close the door,” Fisk said.

That position appears to contradict the Alabama Open Meetings Act, which states that meetings of governmental bodies are generally open to the public and journalists. There’s an exception for special executive sessions.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether any media members or non-residents had been removed from meetings in Paint Rock, a town of about 200 people located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Huntsville. Its business rarely draws media attention.

After the newspaper reported last week on the ban, which was dated Jan. 8, Fisk said it was only a proposal that wasn’t enacted.

The move to limit access to meetings comes amid social media posts that the mayor said were being shared about the town, which doesn’t have a website or social media presence.

“What you’re seeing on Facebook is a disgruntled citizen who doesn’t like that we have a government and can’t do whatever they want to do,” she said. “We’re just a small community that hasn’t had any leadership in a long time and we’re trying to clean it up.”

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