Film Crew Not a Hit With Supervisor

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The debate over illegal immigration in Prince William County flared anew this week after Supervisor John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) called for disciplinary action against the county's communications department.

Stirrup, a leader of the county's effort to toughen local immigration enforcement, sent a letter Monday to County Executive Craig S. Gerhart with a list of 42 questions about staff interactions with a documentary film crew that has been critical of the county's policies. The filmmakers, Eric Byler and Annabel Park, are co-directors of the documentary "9500 Liberty," as well as a YouTube channel by the same name that features short video clips and commentary about the county's illegal immigration measures.

Stirrup wrote the letter after reviewing copies of e-mails between the communications staff and the filmmakers, in which Byler and Park requested copies of video footage from public county proceedings as well as footage gathered by security monitors outside government meetings. At one point, the filmmakers also asked to borrow a video cable. The implication of Stirrup's letter is that the communications staff was doing favors for the filmmakers.

Stirrup gave Gerhart 24 hours to provide a full accounting of staff members' assistance to the filmmakers, alleging a "breach of the public trust."

"To say I am disquieted by what I have read in these documents would be a gross understatement," he wrote.

Gerhart delivered his response yesterday. No security footage was provided, he indicated, and the filmmakers had not received any privileged treatment. He said staff members' behavior had been "upstanding and forthright."

Byler and Park are members of the media, Gerhart wrote. "Our commitment to upholding the public trust requests all County government staff to provide our citizens and the media with all requested public records provided such record is not exempt from disclosure."

Stirrup was in a board meeting yesterday afternoon and not available for comment.

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