First amendment “audit” a bust

By Anne O’Connor
June 1, 2023

When two 30-something men came into the Town House wielding cameras last summer, they came, they saw and they left thanks to the calmness of the forward-facing staff in the building.

“They just kind of milled about,” said Communication Manager Donna McIntosh, who was alone in her office.

She asked twice if they wanted any help and they said no. They refused an offer of coffee and then wandered down the hall to Chris Carmody’s office.

“They were polite and civil,” he said. The administrative project manager always had his door open.

The men entered and filmed, asking Carmody his name, title and how busy things were. 

It depends, he replied. Like McIntosh, he asked if he could help them.

“That was pretty much it,” Carmody said.

McIntosh and Carmody did the right thing, said Police Lt. Brian Goldman, “Be polite, be civil and even offer a cup of coffee.”

“They’re just trying to get a reaction,” he said, “If they want to record, they can record.”

Massachusetts has seen “first amendment auditors” in public buildings over time, recording and publishing their interactions with public servants. So many, in fact the Massachusetts Municipal Association did a seminar on how to react during one.

It was nothing new to McIntosh, who had seen it before when she worked for the city of Lowell in 2012. “It’s a public space. People can come,” she said.

Self-declared auditors are just one of the groups recording in public spaces in town.

In Concord, the police have been using body and cruiser cameras since 2018. The town was an early adopter of the technology, Goldman said.

“Our officers have bought into that,” he said. “We’ve got the whole reaction.”

As for the 2022 filming at the Town House? “It was a non-event,” McIntosh said.