Council hears support for gazebo cameras

FRONT ROYAL – Residents and business owners again asked Town Council to put back surveillance cameras at the Main Street gazebo.

Council held a public hearing to receive input on the matter of whether or not the town should reinstall cameras removed months ago at the request of at least two members. The action prompted residents and downtown business owners to ask council at several meetings to put back the cameras.

Most speakers at Monday’s hearing said they supported the cameras. Council did not make a decision or take action on the matter. They plan to revisit the issue at a future meeting.

Keith Menefee, owner of Down Home Comfort Bakery on Main Street, thanked council for revisiting the matter. Menefee suggested council consider the cameras tools for police rather than as a means of surveillance or to promote safety. The cameras don’t take away personal liberties, Menefee said. Joe McDaniel, of Bradford Drive, spoke in favor of returning the cameras to the gazebo and said the devices could have helped prevent certain crimes or incidents downtown.

Business owner Mike McCool said the town should set up a policy regarding cameras on the gazebo and needs to use appropriate equipment. McCool also suggested that the town install more than one camera near the gazebo to cover a wider area.

Herb Melrath, owner of the Daily Grind on Main Street, said cameras do not infringe rights because the devices would monitor a public area. Melrath suggested the town install cameras along Main Street.

Linda Allen said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that people have no expectation of privacy in a public area.

John Fiderio, the lone opponent of the idea, said the town lacks a plan for the cameras, where it would store the recorded footage, how it would go about deleting the data and how would it prevent hackers from connecting to the live feed. Fiderio commented that if the town installs cameras in one area perhaps it should put such devices in other areas.

“I don’t like walking down the street with my wife and being on camera, but I can get past that if there was a plan,” Fiderio said. “I feel less safe knowing there’s absolutely no plan here.”

Thomas Sayre, former councilman and Shenandoah District county supervisor, recalled the abduction of a woman in Charlottesville had spurred him to ask Town Manager Steve Burke to consider installing cameras.

Councilman John Connolly made a motion directing staff to install cameras at the gazebo and to inform the public about the presence of the devices. Councilman Bret Hrbek called for a point of order, noting that the advertisement did not allow council to make any motions related to the matter.

“I don’t understand how we can get input and then make a decision right of way,” Hrbek said.

Connolly said he made the motion so council members could comment on the matter. Connolly then read the advertisement for the public hearing, noting that it does not include a possible motion. Town Attorney Doug Napier, who backed Hrbek’s argument, said council would need to change the language in future public hearing advertisements to allow members to make motions on the subject matter.

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