CLAY COUNTY — After much debate and questioning of county staff, county commissioners approved Monday, March 25, spending $401,565,39 for upgrading and installing more than 100 security cameras at county facilities across Clay County.

“This is the third rung on a multi-prong security upgrade process we’ve undergone over the last three years,” said Assistant County Administrator for Public Services Nicole Brown. “... This is the last large phase of this project.”

The county has 196 structures to observe, said Brown, and currently has 133 cameras. Under the contract and plan, 103 cameras will be added and some older models will be upgraded for a total of 236 cameras facilitywide. All have video capabilities but audio will not be included as previous county leaders said they did not think the public should be randomly audio recorded, Brown added.

Funds for the work were listed in IT capital purchases with funds generated by the use tax with the work being done by American Digital Security of Liberty. The contract includes alarms, access control, cameras, camera servers, panic buttons and monitoring. Improvements will add security features to parks department property, the Administration Building, James S. Rooney Justice Center, R. Kenneth Elliott Children’s Justice Center and other county buildings.

Before approval of the expense, which was passed on a 2-to-1 vote with Eastern and Western Commissioners Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen voting in favor and Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte against, Nolte questioned staff at length on the need of added cameras, their purpose and costs he considers exorbitant.

Concerns raised

Nolte questioned if the amount of cameras being added were overkill and needed, who would have access to footage, maintenance costs associated with added cameras, potential costs associated with storage needed for saved footage and how video would be accessed in the event of Sunshine Law open records requests.

Outside of the cameras used in law enforcement facilities, which are under control of the sheriff’s office, Brown said the custodian of records, meaning she, would be in custody of footage. Brown also said she, along with a small number of senior staff, would have access to the footage, but that there would be a form set up on the internal intranet where officeholders and department heads could request access in the event of a security concern that may need review. Those requests would be reviewed by Brown.

“Primarily, they will go to our extensive parks system, which has a limited amount of cameras right now, Rooney Justice Center, Administration Building and children’s division,” Brown said of the cameras and locations.County Counselor Lowell Pearson of firm Husch Blackwell said footage, depending on what was requested, would not necessarily be accessible by the public as the Sunshine Law includes an exception for security-related information.

“In general, this is not information that would be a public record,” he said.

Nolte said he also worries about the possibility of invasions of privacy or the potential for cameras to be used to monitor employees’ job performance and not only used for security as they should.

The presiding commissioner asked if cameras may inadvertently record sensitive documents brought in by members of the public that may or may not pertain to the business they came to county facilities to handle. He asked if placement of cameras would be such that they would potentially record someone’s personal documents without his or her consent.

Pearson said once a citizen starts sharing information or materials with a county staffer that he or she brought in to assist the person in a matter with the county, the person relinquishes an expectation of privacy. In addition, he said, case law is clear that an employee has no expectation of privacy in their workspace in terms of what is on a computer, data server, phone or conversations they may have.

“So outside of restrooms and changing rooms for those who are uniformed or whatever, the law is quite clear that it is the employer, not the employee, that controls and holds that information and data. So, in general, commissioner, the type of concern you’re expressing is not recognized in the law,” he said, adding there are scenarios where it may be appropriate to record employees.

Other officeholder input

Clay County Assessor Cathy Rinehart took to the public comment podium to ask how that applies to elected officeholder offices.

“What I’m hearing is that the county administrator and the county commission can put any camera they want in my office and record anything that’s going on with my employees and I have no say so about it and no way to look at anything and it’s perfectly legal,” she said. “I understand about the email and all of that, … is that what I’ve heard?”

Pearson said he’s not in a position to answer on a camera-by-camera basis where cameras can be or not be.

“I have not made any judgment about the ability to or authority of any elected official to have input on camera placement in their offices. I’ve not been asked to do it and I’m not going to do it in this meeting,” he said, adding those details can be discussed at a later date.

Ridgeway said Nolte was hammering an issue that was already addressed and that the county goes overboard in the name of transparency, including allowing outside cameras not required under the Sunshine Law to record commission proceedings.

“I don’t think transparency is an issue here,” she said.

Nolte objected to Ridgeway’s comment, saying the county doesn’t allow outside cameras in meetings out of the goodness of commissioner hearts, but cannot stop a citizen as they have a right to record public meetings.

Clay County Collector Lydia McEvoy addressed the commission, saying she had cameras installed in her office for security purposes when she was elected. McEvoy added she would like to provide input on where cameras would be so that she would know of a place to have a private personnel discussion with a staffer should the need arise.

Nolte suggested Brown work with officeholders to provide input on where cameras should be placed. Brown said she would work with legal counsel to handle the matter professionally.Owen, fed up with the lengthy debate, told Nolte added cameras were for security purposes only and called the motion to question, meaning no other discussion could be had.

“You are trying to make it something it’s not,” he told Nolte.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.

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