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Aldermen could ban cell phones during public meetings

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Updated: 11/18/2013 11:21 pm
STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA) -- They're prohibited in courtrooms, police departments and even in some college classrooms: cell phones.

Now the Starkville Board of Aldermen will address a possible ban on the devices Tuesday night.

"I think it gives the city a black eye," former Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk said of the potential ban.

Monday's resolution, sent to the city clerk by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins would prohibit cell phones during Starkville Board of Aldermen meetings.

"On many occasions, cellular phones have rung out, creating disturbances during the meetings of the board. On occasions when they have rung out, the rings have been very annoying," Perkins said.

Sistrunk says in every meeting she's attended, she hasn't heard it.

"If it did occur, I feel like it's being used as an excuse to do something that they wanted to do otherwise," Sistrunk said.

Sistrunk said she believes that possible motive is evident in last week's initial proposal, which would ban not only cell phones, but also tablets and laptops as well, specifically targeting those who use social media.

"Singling out the social media part of it seems to be terribly directed to just a handful of people because just a handful of people live-tweet from those meetings," Sistrunk said.

And the former alderwoman is one of those few who tweets the meetings on a regular basis.

Many say to carry it that far would have been a First Amendment violation, though.

"A governmental board can't restrict a person's free speech based on the content of that speech," Mississippi Ethics Commission executive director Tom Hood said.

Perkins disagrees.

"The initial resolution and the current one, in my opinion, meet all the legal requirements in conversing with our city attorney," he said.

So why -- when news of this resolution hit Twitter and local media -- did Perkins change the ban to make it only refer to cell phones?

And why did he remove social media from the limitations?

Perkins said the changes were made to make it less objectionable when the resolution goes before the board Tuesday night.

Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said the resolution -- and debate that has followed -- is doing exactly what Perkins says he wants to prevent, though.

"We have real business that we need to attend to in the city, and this is -- in my opinion -- distracting us from accomplishing some of the real work that needs to happen from our board and our city," Walker said.

The resolution states this ban on cell phones does not apply to members of the news media or Mississippi State University journalism students.
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