Council to hold hearing on cameras

FRONT ROYAL – Residents who want surveillance cameras back at the gazebo can get another chance to tell town leaders.

Town Council decided at a work session Monday to hold a public hearing on the topic. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger, who led the effort to remove the cameras that sparked concerns by downtown business owners and residents, requested that members hold the hearing.

Council debated whether or not to hold the hearing and if the town needed to before voting to reinstall the cameras. Members left it up to staff to schedule it.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt said he doesn’t object to holding the hearing but pointed out that camera supporters spoke during the public comment portions of the last several meetings. Tewalt said he supports putting the cameras back, noting that they are worth the money spent if the footage can help authorities gain a conviction in a case. Council also recently received a petition with more than 100 signatures of people who want the town to reinstall the cameras.

“To me, I think a public hearing would be null and void, in my opinion, because we’ve already heard the response by the general public,” Tewalt said, adding that he’s not heard anyone ask council to keep the cameras off the gazebo.

Council also asked about the proper procedure they needed to follow to bring up the topic for a hearing and possible vote.

Town Attorney Doug Napier pointed out that council only ever voted to remove the cameras. No council ever voted to install the cameras, a point Egger also has been quick to point out. Town staff took it upon themselves to put the devices in the gazebo.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe echoed Tewalt’s concerns about the need for a hearing.

“This thing has irritated our citizens to no end,” Tharpe said. “I hear about it every single day.”

Egger acknowledged that people have talked to council about the topic but the matter has not appeared as a specific meeting agenda item. Council talked about the matter at a work session before members voted to remove the cameras in December and no one spoke about the topic, she added.

“But now it seems like people are more opinionated about it so I think we should give them a chance to have it on the agenda as a public hearing so that people are aware,” Egger said.

Tharpe interjected, saying that a hearing might attract coverage by TV news stations.

Tewalt recalled that years when he served as mayor members of council talked about installing cameras at the gazebo. However, neither council nor town staff brought up the topic again, Tewalt said.

Councilman Jacob Meza said if he is to vote on the topic the town should hold a hearing given the amount of public interest.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com