Steuben County Building faced a First Amendment audit recently as a YouTube channel called Auditing Erie County visited the county office to ensure that citizens’ rights to video record in public spaces were respected. The audit took place on October 16th, with the auditors documenting their experience in a video uploaded to their channel.
The auditors began their visit by exploring the county clerk’s office. It was discovered that there are two divisions within the office – full requests and records final requests. Full requests are generally done through the management, while records final requests, such as deeds and maps, are considered public records. The auditors were redirected to the clerk of the legislature for full requests and were informed that public records could be accessed in the records room.
Upon entering the records room, the auditors realized that there were no signs prohibiting photography or the recording of public documents. They took the opportunity to capture some photos and videos for their story on the county. However, they also noticed that some of the documents were in poor condition, suggesting a need for preservation efforts.
The auditors encountered a sign stating that photographs of deeds and books were not permitted. They questioned the reasoning behind this restriction, especially since making copies of the documents was allowed. They hypothesized that the prohibition might be related to revenue generation, as copies of documents are typically paid for. They decided to address their concerns with the deputy county clerk.
Seeking answers, the auditors headed downstairs to meet the county clerk. They asked why photographs of documents were not allowed, despite the option to make copies. The county clerk explained that the restriction was in place to prevent people from handling the documents, as some were in poor condition. However, she confirmed that if a member of the public wanted to take a photo instead of making a copy, it would be allowed as long as the document was a public record.
During their visit, the auditors took note of other issues within the office. They observed that some computer screens displayed personal information publicly, calling for improvements to ensure privacy. They emphasized that the problem lay in the office’s infrastructure rather than the auditors exercising their First Amendment rights.
Moving on from the county clerk’s office, the auditors explored other areas of the Steuben County building. They visited public works and a learning center, capturing photographs and videos of the publicly accessible spaces. They also noted the dated infrastructure of the newer buildings, commenting on the lack of natural light.
Overall, the auditors’ First Amendment audit aimed to shed light on the accessibility and transparency of Steuben County’s government offices. While they encountered some restrictions and concerns about document preservation, they recognized the public’s right to access information and record in publicly accessible areas. They urged the county to address the issues within their office infrastructure, emphasizing the importance of upholding citizens’ rights.
In conclusion, the Steuben County Building First Amendment audit highlighted the need for government offices to ensure the public’s access to information and their rights to record in public spaces. The audit brought attention to issues such as document preservation, privacy concerns, and the need for updated office infrastructure. By shedding light on these matters, the auditors aim to encourage dialogue and improvements to better serve the community.