Ordinance limits recordings in Ottawa Co. buildings

Ottawa County

OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s a new “security” ordinance in Ottawa County, but who is it protecting?

That’s the questions from some residents who worry that it violates their First Amendment rights.

Starting next month, hitting record and going into a county building could land you in jail or force you to pay up to a $500 fine.

“I think this is going to have a very uphill battle when it gets to court,” said Emiratas Professor at Cooley Law School Gerald Fisher.

News 8 showed the ordinance to Fisher, who spent decades drafting and defending ordinances in the state of Michigan in addition to teaching local government and constitutional law at Cooley Law School.

The Ottawa County Ordinance, called the “Surveillance, Invasion of Privacy or Security Ordinance,” would restrict recordings —including from drones — in county parks, areas of the jail and other county buildings. 

“The parks is more than willing to give a permit to participate,” said Ottawa County Legal Counsel Doug Van Essen in the commission meeting on July 27.

Van Essen says recordings will still be allowed in public meetings, hallways and when given permission. Van Essen presented the ordinance because he says there have been instances where county employees have been harassed by people recording them on cell phones, adding that confidential information needs to be protected.

But others argue that First Amendment rights also need protection and portions of this ordinance violates those rights.

“It has no standards on which the parks director or county administrator will make a decision on yea or nay,” said Fisher. 

Fisher says requiring a permit without standards is called “prior restraint,” which is a violation of the First Amendment.

“That is probably one of the most guarded rights in constitutional law,” he said.

The ordinance passed with only one commissioner voting against it. Commissioner Doug Zylstra was concerned because there is a pending lawsuit from the Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators surrounding this.

But Van Essen says he is confident the county will win and that the ordinance will stand up in court, because he got the idea from a city in Florida where it has held up. 

The ordinance goes into effect Sept. 1. The court hearing for the drone lawsuit is also taking place next month.

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