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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

Findlay says cameras OK at sessions of tobacco panel

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - News cameras will not be barred from future meetings of the city's ad hoc smoking committee, the city law director said yesterday.

David Hackenberg said a public hearing that was abruptly adjourned Tuesday night because news photographers refused to leave was the result of a misunderstanding. He said he had advised city Councilman David Cliffe, who chairs the committee, that the committee was not legally required to videotape the hearings.

When several news stations showed up for the meeting and refused to leave, though, Mr. Cliffe called off the meeting, saying he was following the orders of Mr. Hackenberg.

"I never told him that the news media should or could be kicked out," Mr. Hackenberg said yesterday. "I try to do the right thing, and I try to get along with the press."

Mayor Tony Iriti said the cameras "absolutely" should have been permitted at the hearing. He was present when Mr. Cliffe

adjourned the meeting, but said he did not feel it was his place to interfere.

"There's no reason why the cameras shouldn't be allowed," the mayor said. "It's a public issue."

The 11-member ad hoc committee has been meeting for months to explore the feasibility of adopting some kind of public smoking ban in Findlay. It had planned to hold two public hearings this month before sending its recommendations to city council.

Mr. Cliffe said yesterday that a May 25 public hearing will go on as planned and that the committee likely will schedule another public meeting in early June.

"Cameras will be allowed," he said. "That's what the law director is advising at this point."

Mr. Cliffe said his concerns arose because several committee members - who are not elected officeholders - had received "strange e-mails" that made them uncomfortable. They did not agree to serve on the committee to get that kind of public attention, he said.

"It's hard enough to get people to volunteer for things like this," Mr. Cliffe said. "I would hope some of the local media would respect that."

Mr. Hackenberg said that while the committee members are not technically public officials, they've assumed a public role.

"Unfortunately when you accept any public position, even though it's just an ad hoc committee, you're fair game," Mr. Hackenberg said. "Unfortunately some people can't handle that, and I guess they shouldn't serve."

About 40 people had turned out Tuesday night to voice their opinions on the smoking issue. Mr. Cliffe said the committee is not obligated to hold any more sessions for members of the public to speak on the topic, but they still want public input.

"We could just have a work session and put together our recommendations, but I'm not comfortable with that, and I don't think that's what members of the committee want."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

0r 419-353-5972.



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