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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

IMS board president investigates alleged 'secret taping'

Island Middle School Board President Genie Salter and IMS parent/former board member Scott Bassett are conducting an investigation into allegations that other board or staff members secretly taped some recent public meetings.

At a special meeting Feb. 26 to discuss the unauthorized taping, Salter said it had come to her attention that the last regular board meeting and Saturday workshop, which were held in the language arts room, were taped using hidden equipment without the knowledge of the full board.

"This board has never authorized taping for use as public record and although the taping can be done openly," Salter said, "we are talking about secret taping made by people in this school."

Salter said she spoke to an attorney and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office regarding the issue and both strongly urged that the matter be investigated.

Sgt. John Kenney of the MCSO Anna Maria Substation said that if there is an intent to audio tape a proceeding, everyone has to have knowledge of it. Kenney confirmed that a representative of the school was warned that audio taping without the knowledge of the people present is a third-degree felony. The intent of the law, he said, draws back to the ability to use a wire tap, but that laws are catching up with the use of new technology.

Kenney said a police report regarding the alleged taping has not been filed with his department, although the school did report a theft.

According to the report, a staff member reported the video camera connector in the language arts classroom missing - the same camera that was allegedly used to tape board meetings.

Salter contacted the sheriff's office and informed them that she disabled the camera due to the allegations of secret tapings and that the board would address the issue.

Salter said the board should know how and why the tapes were made.

Board member Noranne Hutcheson said she was aware the tapes were being made and that they would be helpful to her as she finalizes the typed minutes of the meetings.

"What's the point of not saying it out in the open?" asked board member Kimberly Holmstrom. "We're not scared of what was said, it's a matter of it not being done openly. Why couldn't you say 'I'm going to tape?'"

The board voted to allow Salter to interview non-board members that may have been involved in the incident, and Bassett will interview board members on the subject, to determine if there may have been any wrongdoing.

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