NEW BYLAW PROPOSED ON TOWN USE OF SURVEILLANCE TECHNOLOGY

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JOINT MEETING OF THE TOWN SERVICES AND OUTREACH COMMITTEE AND THE TOWN COUNCIL

A joint meeting of the Town Services and Outreach Committee and Town Council was held as a Zoom webcast and recorded for possible future broadcast. It was called to order at 9:32 a.m. by Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) and Town Services Committee (TSO) Chair Darcy DuMont (District 5).

Participating
From TSO: Alisa Brewer (At large), Darcy DuMont (Chair), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Evan Ross (District 4), and George Ryan (District 3)

From the Town Council: Mandi Jo Hanneke (At Large), Lynn Griesemer (District 2),  Andy Steinberg (At large), and Sarah Swartz (District 1), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)

From Town Hall:  Christine Brestrup (Town Planner), Rob Morra (Building Commissioner), and Paul Bockelman (Town Manager)

Highlights

  • TSO discussed a proposed bylaw to govern the use of Surveillance Technology by Town personnel and departments
  • TSO approved the reappointment of 17 people to 11 committees with little discussion
  • TSO recommended unanimously an amendment to the Town Public Ways Policy to transfer certain authority over the public ways from the Council to the Town Manager with the aim of expediting decisions about outdoor seating for reopening businesses downtown
  • TSO agreed to work on a process for setting Committee priorities and requirements for putting items on meeting agendas

Public Comment
None. 

Surveillance Technology Bylaw
Councilor Mandi-Jo Hanneke introduced her proposed bylaw to govern the Town’s use of surveillance technology, noting that Northampton already has a bylaw like this in place.

Hanneke said that the impetus for writing the proposal came from an article she read on the bias in face recognition technology, which is most accurate for white men and least accurate for people of color. She asked whether the Town should embrace a technology that has a built-in bias.   She pointed out that her proposal is based on a bylaw that has been adopted by Cambridge in collaboration with the state chapter of the ACLU of Massachusetts.  

The bylaw would ban the use of facial recognition technology by the Town. For all other surveillance technologies it would require:

  • A regular impact report on the technology’s impact
  • Use intention report/policy (how it will be used)
  • Waiver to use with Council approval
  • Submission of an annual report on how and who is using the technology

The intent is not to completely ban the use of surveillance technology by the Town but to insure that Amherst residents know exactly what is being used, how it is being used, who has access to the technology, when and what data are collected,  and how those data are used? 

The bylaw seeks to create complete transparency around the use of any surveillance technology and this needs to be established before any department acquires such technology.

Bockelman has expressed his concern about the requirement to submit an annual report as adding to Town Hall’s workload.

Hanneke noted that the bylaw endeavors to not place an onerous burden on the Town Manager or Town Departments. 

Pam wanted assurance that the Town will not be using technology that monitors individuals’ phones.

Hanneke responded that the bylaw only applies to technology purchased by the Town.  It does not in any way prevent anyone from going to Verizon or other companies to subpoena records.

Brewer objected to this matter coming before TSO at this time, noting that the committee is seeing this proposal for the first time and that all members should have been consulted before the issue was placed on the agenda.  She complained that the matter had not been sufficiently vetted, that sufficient preparation for presentation had not been done prior to the meeting,  that members had not received much information in advance of the meeting and hence, the proposal was not ready for presentation.  She asked why an opinion had not been sought from the Chief of Police and other  officials in town who might be impacted by adoption.  She asked that TSO establish its own process and stick to it..

Hanneke responded that from a sponsor’s point of view, it feels like this preliminary presentation is useful so TSO can figure out which stakeholders they want to and need to talk to.   Then they can bring in those stakeholders and then come to an informed decision.

Brewer disagreed, saying that it is up to the sponsor to bring in the key stakeholders with their presentation to TSO.  This shouldn’t be TSO’s responsibility.  

Dumont said that TSO will have to come to an agreement on what its process will be.

Ryan was skeptical of the need for such a bylaw saying that he was struggling to envision the threat of having “some insidious technology” or use of technology being adopted by some department without the Council’s awareness.

Hanneke responded that license plate readers (recommended by the Downtown Parking Group) would indeed fall under this bylaw as would Bluetooth and other wireless scanning technologies.  The purpose of the bylaw is not, for example,  to prevent parking enforcement from using License Plate (LP) ID technology but for the department to specify limits and bound the way such technology can be used.  She said that there are indeed ways to use LP reading technology insidiously, so it makes sense to set limits on its use and to ensure that it is being used within those limites.  She said that “we want to set up the bounds before the tech is acquired and implemented”. She also said the Town should want ongoing reporting on how it is used, who has access, how long data are archived, etc. 

Hanneke added that while Amherst Police do not use body cameras, should they ever have them, we will need to be able to answer all of those previous questions. 

Pam asked whether the bylaw specifies.penalites?

Hanneke responded that it does but they are injunctive – i.e. if there are violations, the bylaw provides that people can sue for injunction to stop the mis-use. 

Dumont noted that the town  already has surveillance cameras at the Police  and Fire Departments so it’s useful for the Town to begin thinking about this in a thoughtful and thorough way.

Ross said that he too was concerned about TSO’s process complaining that TSO had approved the wage theft bylaw too quickly in his opinion.  He said he  wants to know what the rush is here as this doesn’t seem to be an urgent matter.  

Dumont responded that she put the matter on the agenda because there is currently room on the agenda.

Brewer objected to the committee Chair setting the agenda without consultation with the entire committee.  She stated that this matter is not ready to be taken up by the Committee and asked that the committee agree on a process before it moves forward.  “Nothing should happen until we get this down” she said.

Ryan agreed saying there is no point in doing any more on this proposal until the process is resolved.

Pam suggested that TSO create a subcommittee to draft a process and that the Chair and Vice Chair should work together to set the agendas.

Dumont suggested a retreat to get the process nailed down expeditiously.

Pam responded that a Zoom retreat does not appeal to her.

The Committee decided to revisit the proposed surveillance bylaw some time in July and to begin to nail down a process at their June 15 meeting.

Town Manager  Appointments
TSO considered a bulk request from the Town Manager to reappoint 17 people to 11 Town boards and committees.   No objections were raised about this process  from any of the members of TSO and no questions were posed or concerns raised about any of the individuals nominated for reappointment with a single exception.

Dumont asked about the reappointment of Janet Marqurdt to the Historical Commission, noting that her reappointment would result in a term of service longer than six years.  Bockelman responded that there is no formal limit to how long someone can serve.  Marquardt has served one term plus one partial term and Bockelman thought that a second full term was in order.

TSO voted 5-0 to accept the appointments and send them on to the Council.

Action Item: Public Way Request Within The Temporary Zoning Bylaw Moratorium

TSO discussed a review of a proposed amendment to the Town’s  Public Way Policy that would designate to the Town Manager a portion of the Town Council’s authority to regulate and control the public ways.

The matter had been previously discussed by the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL) and which referred it to TSO.  The primary purpose of this amendment is to allow the Town Manager to allow restaurants to expand their outdoor space.   (Read the full proposal here).

Ryan asked if this would include expansion into public parking areas and into green spaces.  Apparently under Governor Baker’s Phase 2 for reopening, restaurants will be allowed only outdoor service and even in Phase 3, their use of their inside space will be restricted.

Bockleman replied that the Town wants to be as supportive of its restaurants as it can be but he doesn’t yet know what they are going to need or are going to be asking for.

Brestrup-added that the town doesn’t yet know where the requests will come from so it’s going to have to take things on a case-by-case basis. 

Dumont asked how ADA requirements come into play when requests are made to place tables on sidewalks.

Bockelman replied that establishments must comply with ADA rules and how they will do this must be clear in their applications.  There are a lot of different ways to go about expanding outdoor seating including closing parking spaces and moving pedestrian traffic into the street near the curb.  There are protocols/examples for doing this. 

Dumont recommended that the Town reach out to the Town’s Disability Access Committee for input.

Pam reminded people of how difficult it is to navigate public ways in some places in New York City because of encroachment by restaurants.  She wants sidewalk space that is at least two adults wide.  “Some people need the arm of another to navigate,” she said.

Morra said that the Town generally aspires to four feet of clearance which is ideal for one way traffic. The law allows a reduction to three feet to avoid an obstacle.  

Pam responded “So it looks like this could be tricky.  We should at least try to keep this (need for 2 person clearance) in mind.”

Bockelman assured the meeting that the Town would comply with ADA requirements.

A motion to recommend this amendment to the full Council passed unanimously and the matter was discussed again at the Council’s meeting that evening. 

Police
Pam asked Bockelman if he could share the response of the Amherst Police Department to the national protests against police brutality.  Bockelman responded that it would not be appropriate to discuss that at this meeting as it was not on the agenda but that he may address it in this week’s Town Manager’s report.

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