2014-09-25 / News

You’re being watched: 11 cameras in town

By Margo Sullivan

The most recent of the town’s 11 surveillance cameras looms over the gatehouse at Fort Getty; it was installed in August 2013. 
Photo by Tim Riel The most recent of the town’s 11 surveillance cameras looms over the gatehouse at Fort Getty; it was installed in August 2013. Photo by Tim Riel Jamestown’s municipal government now operates 11 surveillance cameras, according to Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom. The town gave its official response on Aug. 26 following a third request for public records. The Jamestown Press made its first request on Jan. 27.

But some questions about the cameras, including how much they cost and why they were installed, will remain in the dark.

According to Fernstrom, the town currently operates cameras located at the recreation center, Fort Getty gatehouse, water treatment plant, East Ferry pier, wastewater treatment plant, fire station and ambulance barn. She said there are multiple cameras situated at some of the locations.

Fernstrom says the cameras were installed for security reasons by town staff between 2005 to 2013. The town declined to say how much the cameras cost, but indicated no taxpayer dollars were spent. Fernstrom said town workers are responsible for maintaining the equipment.

Also, the town does not share any of the surveillance equipment with private businesses, and Fernstrom said there are no plans at the current time to install more cameras.

The request for public records also asked for copies of all camera policies that the town has drafted or adopted. When the first request was made in January on the recommendation of Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, Town Administrator Kevin Paicos responded immediately and provided a copy of the policy. Paicos, however, cautioned that it was still under review. In Fernstrom’s response last month, she said the request was already fulfilled by Paicos, implying that the draft policy hasn’t changed since January.

One answer appeared to contradict earlier information that town officials supplied. During a 2013 budget meeting, Finance Director Tina Collins mentioned cameras in response to the technology budget increasing from $30,000 to $36,000. When Town Administrator Bruce Keiser was asked about the comment, he said there appeared to have been a misunderstanding.

“Tina was referencing the cameras as an example of the expansion of the scope of activity of the IT department in recent years,” he wrote in an email dated April 23, 2013. “Her comments were not suggestive that we had plans nor were budgeting for any new cameras.”

The camera at the Fort Getty gatehouse, however, was installed in August 2013.

Ultimately, Fernstrom answered eight of the 14 questions. Responses to four of the inquiries were not given because the request was “to inspect or copy records that do not exist” pursuant to the state’s definition of a public record. The questions included:

• Why are the cameras being purchased?

• Who first authorized the purchase of security cameras?

• Was the contract put out to bid?

• Is a staff member paid for work related to cameras and what are the amounts of compensation?

Also, the Press asked for copies of any documents from meetings on the subject of security cameras, but the town said “there are no documents responsive to this request.”

Finally, a request was made for the town councilors to unseal minutes from executive sessions held to discuss the cameras. “You are not entitled to any executive session minutes,” said the letter.

According to Police Chief Ed Mello, the police station has surveillance cameras, but they are handled internally by the department’s staff.

The letter provided reference to state laws that allow such records to be excluded from records requests and was accompanied by copies of the pertinent sections.

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