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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
During an MMA webinar, attorney Lauren Goldberg gave nearly 900 municipal officials tips to prepare for and handle “First Amendment audits.”
Municipalities are increasingly subjected to self-annointed “auditors” who record their interactions with public officials and post videos to social media, such as YouTube. “Auditors” see recording and posting these interactions with public officials and employees as a form of activism. Usually, Goldberg explained, the goal is to provoke employees into unlawfully detaining, refusing entry, or otherwise violating the constituent’s First Amendment rights.
Goldberg, a managing attorney at KP Law, reviewed the legal issues surrounding these so-called audits. In Massachusetts, constituents are permitted to record public officials in a public area of a public entity’s building as they undertake official business.
To prepare, she said, public officials should review what is considered “public facing” in their municipality’s office space. Employees should ensure they are prepared to safeguard private information, documents subject to attorney-client privilege, or documents subject to the exemptions to the public records law.
Goldberg emphasized the importance of determining, in advance, who will respond during a First Amendment audit, given that some employees may be more comfortable with confrontation.
Goldberg gave an overview of de-escalation responses, such as staying calm and engaging in business as usual.
Following a First Amendment audit, she encouraged public officials to report the interaction to the appropriate executive authority so follow-up actions can be determined.
Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman moderated 30 minutes of questions and answers. Attendees had inquiries about recording minors, defining public areas, and protecting public records.
• So-called “First Amendment Audits” presentation – Lauren Goldberg (470K PDF)