By Dave Maxwell
A change in policy to not allow audio surveillance in any Mineral County building was enacted by the board of commissioners at their Sept. 2 meeting.
Silent video purveyance recording will still be permitted for security purposes.
The action was the result of commissioner Christine Hoferer calling out county IT technician Brett Towe for having installed audio visual surveillance cameras in the hallway of the courthouse without the knowledge of board members or any county employee except District Attorney Sean Rowe.
Hoferer said she considered Towe for being, “way out of line for installing video and audio recording cameras in the hallway of the county courthouse and not posting a sign clearly stating “Visual Audio Recording in Progress”, and not brining the proposal to board for discussion and approval before being installed.
However, she said she was also told by others in the courthouse there were no audio recordings being made.
Towe replied that audio recordings of people in the hallway are being made.
He said District Attorney Sean Rowe was aware of this and had approved it.
Hoferer said she was flabbergasted to learn of this practice. “If you did this without anybody’s knowledge except a couple of people, I am feeling quite a bit of distrusting and I don’t like that.”
She questioned Towe for not having informed any of the board members about the recordings. “So, you alone think there should be audio recordings in the hallway? Why is that?”
Towe said he did this because he thought the inter-employee interactions are a bit annoying…and maybe a little bit of audio recording in the hallway would tone it down.”
He said the recordings are not monitored and Hoferer asked, “Then what is the point of this?” Towe replied, “If there is an incident and it escalates to where there is a problem, then recordings can be reviewed.”
It was noted the cameras in the county commission chambers are for live streaming only and not recordings.
Towe said he had discussed the idea with DA Rowe. “But,” he noted, “there is not an easy way to turn off the cameras, so it is better not to have audio either. However, the hallway being a public area, there should not be the expectation of privacy anyway.”
Hoferer and Towe disagreed on whether or not a sign should be clearly posted informing people that audio recordings are being made of conversations in the hallway. “You thought that this was okay to do, on your own, without discussion with anybody except the District Attorney about posting just to get rid of negativity in the courthouse?”
She wondered if Towe “would report what was heard on the recordings and run up to the Sheriff’s office?
He said No, he would not do that, but did say that if a person had an issue, they could go to the Sheriff’s office and listen to the recording of the particular incident.
Towe said he thought he had a perfect right to put cameras with audio recording capabilities in the hallway without first informing the commission board.
Hoferer was incensed by this and said Towe, works at the pleasure of the board of county commissioners and did not have the right to do this without their knowledge. “I don’t like it,” she said. “The whole thing with surveillance cameras is for security reasons, not to pick up gossip in the hallway, or whatever.”
Towe said. “It was not about gossip, it was about employee complaints about another employee and I got so tired of having to fill out written reports, I did something about it.” To which Hoferer replied, “I think you were so out of line, I can’t believe you are sitting here defending it. I have a real problem with people being videotaped when they come to work. There is no procedure on who has access to the recordings or how long it is to be kept. There are rules that go with this. Where else has this been done, and where does it end? I am really flabbergasted at your reasoning. Those cameras are for security reasons in case there is an incident at this courthouse, That’s it.”
Hoferer read a policy statement that said, “If the location has audio and visual surveillance the employer should take several steps to insure there is no expectation of privacy. The location should post a sign that state Audio Recording in Progress.” “That didn’t happen,” she said. Also a provision should be placed in the employee handbook and the employee should then sign a consent form as a condition of employment. The practice is to avoid audio surveillance and limit the 24-hour surveillance to video.”
She continued, “That’s where we are and I think there are so many privacy and constitutional laws that are being violated in doing it at all and doing it in the way you did it, which I’m not happy with at all, I think you have exceeded your duties as the IT technician and you work directly below the board and I think you were way out of line with this, way out of line. You cross the line when you are constantly video tape every single word that comes out of your employees mouth.”