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Hancock County

GARNER | First Amendment audits filmed in Iowa have the Hancock County Board of Supervisors restricting areas within its buildings to the public.

On Monday, April 8, the County Board unanimously approved a resolution designating portions of the Hancock County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center as non-public areas and directing signage to be posted to them to notify the public.

“I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion ... but at the same time, I could totally see what happened there happening here without any kind of direction,” said Blake Norman, Hancock County attorney.

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The supervisors’ decision came after Norman was made aware of two YouTube videos posted in March by a man, whose username is Hunting for Freedoms, conducting First Amendment audits at Ames City Hall and Boone County Courthouse.

In the videos, the man, like other so-called auditors across the U.S., enters the public buildings armed with multiple cameras and films public employees working. When asked to leave by law enforcement, or others, he informs them of his constitutional rights.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people know when you go to a courthouse, you can’t go in the back where the people work and just start videotaping everything,” Norman said. “It seems to be common sense, but at the same time, he’s got a point. If it’s not marked and it’s unlocked, why can’t I go in here? It’s a public building.”

According to the resolution, non-public areas are:

  • All work space areas that have an entrance with secured-access doorways, not including lobby areas without secured access doorways.
  • Storage areas that have secured-access doorways.
  • Safes located in the Courthouse basement with doorways located in the hallway.
  • Employee breakroom in the Courthouse basement.
  • Judicial officer chambers and court staff offices.
  • Hallway running north and south on the third floor leading to the judge’s chambers, except the portions leading to the jury room and law library.
  • Copy room on the first floor adjacent to the treasurer’s office.
  • Treasurer’s office space area adjacent to the driver’s licensing area.
  • Board of Supervisors’ meeting space and offices when not in session.

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Locked or controlled access points as well as those listed in the resolution are designated as non-public areas to allow employees to “efficiently work and protect sensitive private information,” the resolution states.

“The public has a right to come into a public building and a right to do business in a public building, but they do not have a right to wander anywhere and everything they want to,” Norman said.

Several county department heads voiced appreciation to Norman for his work drafting the resolution.

“Honestly Blake, we’d rather be prepared for it and protect employees from the mishap that could happen,” said Adam Clemons, Hancock County engineer. “We wouldn’t want anyone having a police report filed on them just because they were trying to do their job.”

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A copy of the resolution will be posted in various spots within the Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center and additional signage will be affixed to non-public areas unlocked or without controlled-access points.

Norman plans on bringing similar resolutions for other county-owned buildings forward to the County Board in the future and holding meetings with county staff about how to respond if someone visits them conducting a First Amendment audit.

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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