Tisdale is being honored by Georgia’s First Amendment Foundation for her work in making public meetings available to the citizens of her community and for her dedication to keeping government open for everyone’s participation.
In a letter announcing the award, Shawn McIntosh, President of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation says:
“Each year, the board of directors of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation accepts nominations for the Open Government Hero Award. Not every year produces an honoree but this year there was no question that open government had a fierce and exemplary advocate deserving of recognition.”
Tisdale is a citizen journalist and sets an excellent example for other citizens who may find their communities without the type of media coverage the local government deserves.
The Georgia woman regularly attends and video records public meetings in her community, posts the information to her website and YouTube channel and indexes the information to make it easy to find each topic.
She remains polite yet firm in exercising her rights and she has earned both the ire and respect of many public servants in her area.
Her interest in photography and videography began at an early age, watching her father use his video camera to document important family events. When her parents sent her to visit her grandmother in Colombia, South America, she was given a camera and diary so she could document the month-long trip.
That was the beginning of her journalistic pursuits and in learning how to document events that were important in her life.
Tisdale says she didn’t have much interest in local politics before attending a public meeting at the request of her boss, who was concerned about a landfill proposal on a property adjacent to his own.
The experience of participating in pubic meetings for the Forsyth County Planning Commission taught her the nuances of local government, the names and positions of governmental officials, and how well they were performing the jobs they are paid by the taxpayers to do.
She also learned how important it is to bring that information to the citizens affected and to share the information to the public in an easy-to-follow format that would be convenient enough for citizens to attend public meeting without ever leaving the comfort of their own homes.
Tisdale tried to video record, for the first time, a Cumming City Council Meeting inside the Cumming City Hall on April 17, 2012 — the same day Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed HB 397 into law. The newly signed law reaffirmed the rights of citizens to use visual and sound recording devices during open meetings.
Cumming Mayor, H. Ford Gravitt, was not amused by her attempts to document the City Council meeting and after claiming video recording was not allowed in Council Chambers, he called her presence a “housecleaning” issue and had her physically removed from the meeting.
He would not let her return until she turned off her video camera. Sadly, City of Cumming Attorney, Dana B. Miles, stayed silent while witnessing Mayor Gravitt violate Tisdale’s rights under Georgia law.
Tisdale vowed to the mayor that she would file a complaint with the Georgia Attorney General, Sam Olens who later filed suit against the city for refusing to follow the Georgia Open Meetings Law and allow video recording at public meetings.
Tisdale filed her own suit against the city for public meeting and civil rights violations, and recently settled her federal claim for $200,000 earlier this year. The Attorney General was also successful in his suit in the district court but that decision has been appealed by the city.
Tisdale is probably best known for her August 23, 2014 arrest at a pumpkin farm in Dawsonville Georgia while video recording a public political rally, where she was asked by campaign staff to turn off her camera.
When she tried to explain that she had permission to record the event from the property owner, she was forcibly removed by Dawson County Sheriff’s Deputy, Tony Wooten. She was left bruised and embarrassed and facing charges of criminal trespassing and felony obstruction. Tisdale says the incident was very traumatic but she remains undeterred and continues to cover events that she feels are important to her community and to her.
The Dawson County District Attorney, Lee Darragh, has yet to dismiss or pursue the charges for an arrest that occurred almost a year ago. Wooten, the arresting deputy, was place on paid leave after the incident but was later cleared of any wrongdoing by the department. Wooten recently announced he will run for Sheriff of Dawson County in 2016.
Tisdale continues to advocate for her community’s right to access their government. She is tireless in her efforts to gather information important to her community and to share it in a way that offers an unbiased look at the business of the people. She strongly encourages others to get involved in following local politics as well and recommends that all Georgia citizens read the Georgia Red Book, a guide to public records and meetings laws for the State of Georgia. The book is published by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and is available on line here.
While Tisdale says the Georgia Red Book is filled with important information on the rights of citizens to public records the three most important things she has learned from the book are:
- Public Records belong to the public. There is no shame in submitting an Open Records Act Request (ORAR) and no reason is required to obtain a Public Record.
- The public has a legal right to know what public officials are reading and writing while performing their official duties.
- Providing a description of the information sought may assist in finding the Public Record responsive to the request.
The right to be involved in the government process to public policy is not an exclusive club. Every member of the public has the right to be involved in the decision making process and to hold our public servants accountable. Making a record request should not be a reason for a citizen’s intent to be scrutinized and the custodian of public records should treat all requests for records with a respect to the rights of the requestor. While it is best to be as specific as possible when making a record request, requesting the record by it’s specific name is not required. It is only necessary to describe the information being sought as specifically as possible and the custodian should provide the records that best responds to your request.
Please also consider calling the Dawsonville District Attorney’s office and ask DA Lee Darragh why felony charges have not been dropped against Tisdale for the Pumpkin Patch incident almost a year ago. His office can be reached here:
(706) 344-3620 phone (706) 344-3622 fax
You can also send him an Email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the video of her arrest at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm last August. The arrest begins 14 minutes into the video.