Ed Piotrowski, an aviation quality control inspector and a resident of Sedalia, recorded a Sedalia Town Council meeting and posted it on Facebook without informing the councilmembers.

He said he was shocked to find himself being accused of a Class H felony by the town’s mayor and other town officials.

Piotrowski said he was amazed at the way the council reacted to his posting of a meeting video – which was mostly audio, since the phone’s camera was pointed down most of the time.  At a following meeting, they were irate.

“They said I sneakily recorded the meeting,” he said.

Piotrowski said he was targeted by the all-black council because he was a white man who ran for a Town Council seat last year.

Only one town councilmember, Valerie Jones, defended Piotrowski.  She recently resigned – in part due to that fight.

“It’s a public meeting – a public meeting,” Jones said.

Anyone, Jones said, has an absolute right to record a public meeting – video, audio or both – with or without telling the councilmembers.

After being told he had committed a crime, Piotrowski asked for contact information for the town attorney, Albert M. Benshoff.

The town sent Piotrowski the following email: “Below is the contact info for Attorney Benshoff. Also, attached is the G.S. [NC General Statute] he sent concerning the public recording inquiry. If you do reach out to him, you may want to check on his fees to assist you. I’m sure the Town will already be billed for his services on this matter, so I imagine the Council will not want a second charge. He is contracted on a ‘as needed’ basis, so he is compensated by the hour.”

The statute attached to the email, NCGS 15A-287 – “Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited” – pertains to criminal wiretapping.

It reads, “Except as otherwise specifically provided in this Article, a person is guilty of a Class H felony if, without the consent of at least one party to the communication, the person… willfully uses, endeavors to use, or procures any other person to use or endeavor to use any electronic, mechanical, or other device to intercept any oral communication…”

Piotrowski said that he’d met NC State Rep. Jon Hardister before and that Hardister had been a real inspiration to him, so he contacted Hardister to see if this was really a crime.

Hardister sent an email to state government legal staff: “One of my constituents asked if it is legal to attend a local town council meeting and record the comments via video, then share the comments on a social media page. I told him that this is perfectly legal, as town council meetings are by nature open to the public and that people are welcome to record freely.”

Hardister asked NC General Assembly legal staff to weigh in on the matter.  Staff sent back the actual relevant statute: “[A]ny radio or television station is entitled to broadcast all or any part of a meeting required to be open …Any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.”