MCC board cracks down on flashing camera bulbs

Published: 1/31/2008 12:14 AM

Shutterbugs, beware.

McHenry County College trustees this week by a 3 to 2 vote banned flash photography from its meetings, citing its disruptive nature.

Moreover, the board chairman now has the power to "limit an individual's ability to photograph any portion of the board meeting" if it interferes with the proceedings, leading local blogger Cal Skinner to question whether that's a violation of the First Amendment.

The crackdown comes on the heels of a spat last week between board Chairman George Lowe and ex-politician Skinner that occurred after a committee of the whole meeting.

Lowe told Skinner to turn off the flash bulbs at the next board meeting, and Skinner countered that the board would have to outlaw it first. And so it did Monday night.

"He threw the gauntlet down to me, 'Pass a resolution,'" said Lowe, who has been on the board for 15 years. "OK, we will."

Lowe said he hates the lights in his eyes and says Skinner is the only person to consistently use flash photography at meetings.

He compares Skinner to paparazzi who tail celebrities, saying the blogger stops at nothing to get his shot and photographs board members from multiple angles and at close range.

"We have to preserve a little decorum in the meeting room," Lowe said, adding that he's told Skinner to retire his flash several times. "If he doesn't like that, I can't help that."

Skinner has photographed MCC board members for his blog ever since October when a pair of board members, who previously supported the school's expansion efforts, spoke out against the plans at a Crystal Lake City Council meeting.

The city council tabled the plans and the school board censured the two trustees, Donna Kurtz and Scott Summers.

Skinner supports Kurtz and Summers and suggests it's increased scrutiny, not the camera's glare, that's got Lowe and other board members miffed.

"It's what I reveal about what they do, and I shall continue writing about what they do," he said.

Last year, Skinner found himself in a similar situation with the McHenry County Board.

The board discussed the flash issue at great length because Skinner used it "hundreds" of times to take photos of board members, Chairman Ken Koehler said. But because the board didn't want to restrict the news media from doing its job, it never curbed the activity, Koehler said.

Lowe is reserving the right to warn and eject people from meetings if they persist in using flash photography.

And the First Amendment supports him, said Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association.

"Allowing the board to do its business without being inundated with flashes is a reasonable governmental purpose," he said. "It's just unfortunate that (Skinner's) activities will lead to limitations on everybody."