A woman arrested last summer in Dawson County for trying to videotape a public GOP rally is being honored with an open government heros award for her actions in nearby Cumming.
Nydia Tisdale, 51, will be honored Sept. 17 with the 2015 Open Government Heros Award presented by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.
There was no question that open government had a fierce and exemplary advocate deserving of recognition, wrote Shawn McIntosh, president of the foundation, in a letter dated July 13 to Tisdale. The board would be very honored if you would accept its 2015 Open Government Hero award.
Tisdale is being honored after winning two lawsuits filed against the City of Cumming and its Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt.
On April 17, 2012, Tisdale was illegally ejected from a Cumming City Council meeting by Gravitt for attempting to videotape the councils discussion about water services.
It was the same day Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law an updated version of Georgias Open Meetings Act. Both the old and new laws provide that visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted.
Gravitt decided otherwise.
We dont allow filming inside of the city hall, he said at the time and then directed Police Chief Casey Tatum to remove the camera.
Tisdale won two subsequent lawsuits: one against Gravitt and the city in August 2014 for $12,000 the highest amount allowed for violating the states sunshine laws, and a second federal lawsuit in March was settled out of court for $200,000.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens prosecuted the $12,000 case.
Olens is being honored with the foundations Freedom of Information Award for his commitment to improving open government laws in Georgia.
Olens has acted in the best traditions of former Chief Justice Charles L. Weltner in pursuing changes to Georgias Open Records and Meetings Act designed to enhance the ability of Georgia citizens to access pulbic records and public government gatherings, according to a press release.
In Dawson County, Olens attended an August 2014 GOP rally where Tisdale was arrested for ignoring a request from Attorney Clint Bearden, who emceed the event, to turn off her videocamera.
Nearly a year later, Tisdale continues to face felony charges of obstruction of an officer and criminal trespass.
Dawson County District Attorney Lee Darragh was contacted Friday and asked if his office will proceed and bring the case before a grand jury.
I wont comment now on the case as is my practice for all pending cases, Darragh wrote in an email.
Charges have been pending since Aug. 23, 2014, according to an arrest report.
The event, held at Burts Pumpkin Farm, was advertised in local newspapers.
Arresting officer Capt. Tony Wooten was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 27, 2014, pending the outcome of an internal investigation into his conduct during the arrest. He was cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated at the conclusion of a two-day investigation.
At the time, Wooten said he was upholding the law after pumpkin farm owner, Johnny Burt, gave him a signal to have Tisdale removed.
Also attending the GOP rally were: Gov. Nathan Deal, First Lady Sandra Deal, Congressman Doug Collins (9th District), Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and other candidates campaigning for office.
Immediately after Tisdales arrest, Olens addressed the crowd.
Let me be possibly politically incorrect here for a second," he said. "If we stand for anything as a party, what are we afraid of with the lady having a camera filming us? What are we saying that shouldn't be on film? What message are we sending? What is the harm? The harm this poses is far greater than her filming us. If we are telling you why we are running and what we stand for, what are we hiding?"
Olens, at the time, was running for office. Statements were confirmed by his campaign spokesperson, Sheri Kell.
Dawson County Republican Party Chair Linda Clary-Umberger left the rally after protesting Tisdales arrest.