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Brookline Town Meeting weighs in on cameras, debate on diversity

Posted by Brock Parker  November 21, 2013 11:11 AM

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Four years after asking selectmen to remove the town’s surveillance cameras, Brookline Town Meeting backed off a similar proposal Wednesday and instead asked the town not to increase the use of the devices.

Town Meeting also approved a resolution Wednesday calling for appointments to a Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission that has been at the center of a controversy over diversity in the town.

By a vote of 113 to 86, Town Meeting members approved a resolution Wednesday asking selectmen not to increase the usage of 11 surveillance cameras in the town beyond the current time limits of between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Opponents of the cameras who say the devices raise privacy concerns had proposed a resolution that would ask the town to remove the 11 cameras installed at busy Brookline intersections in 2009.

But Town Meeting member Stanley Spiegel offered a compromise to instead ask selectmen not to increase the use of the cameras to 24 hours a day, as Brookline Police have been seeking.

“We’ve lived with it for some years now,” Spiegel said of the cameras. “It seems not to have raised too many hackles on too many sides.”

Town Meeting had asked selectmen to remove the cameras in 2009, but the board instead limited the use of the cameras to overnight hours and during special events and emergencies.

But in June, at the urging of Brookline Police Chief Daniel O’Leary, a town committee overseeing the use of the cameras voted to recommend that the Board of Selectmen abolish its current hourly limits and allow the cameras to be used 24 hours a day.

A group of Town Meeting members led by Clint Richmond, then proposed the article to this fall’s Special Town Meeting seeking that the cameras be removed.

“We oppose permanent mass surveillance of any form because we think it compromises American values of freedom and liberty,” Richmond told Town Meeting Wednesday. “I believe that we should be able to walk down the street and not be continuously photographed by our government, just as we have for 200 years.”

But Selectman Ken Goldstein said the town has safeguards in place to ensure that the surveillance cameras are not abused, and the board asked Town Meeting not to support the resolution to remove the devices.

“We live in a world with risks, and public cameras surveillance is a ready tool by which to minimize those risks,” Goldstein said.

Also Wednesday, Town Meeting voted 183 to 15 in favor of a resolution asking that selectmen make appointments to fill a number of vacancies on the Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. The 15-member commission, charged with promoting racial harmony and monitoring diversity, is down to seven members and can no longer reach a quorum.

Debate about a recent lack of appointments to the commission has grown increasingly heated in Brookline, as some of the remaining members of the commission have said the town needs to more to hire people of color because there are no minorities in in department head positions. At the same time others have raised concerns about what has caused a number of resignations from the commission, and a former member has said a lack of respect and cooperation showed by fellow members may be leading to people leaving the volunteer commission.

Before debate on the article began Wednesday, Town Moderator Sandy Gadsby warned Town Meeting members that while discussion about appointments to the commission has become an emotional issue, he would not allow attacks on individuals, the commission or members of the Board of Selectmen.

“I will not allow accusations of the board or any particular selectman of racism of discrimination or of any other unfair bias,” Gadsby said.

Member’s of the commission’s diversity subcommittee had proposed a resolution that said three qualified candidates, one Latino and two black applicants, have been trying to get onto the commission since April, but the Board of Selectmen put a moratorium on making appointments.

While the resolution asked selectmen to appoint the three applicants, Mariela Ames, a member of the commission’s diversity subcommittee, said the real purpose of the resolution was to show that the town wants to move down a road toward inclusion and diversity.

She said a lack of minorities in department head positions in the town is a sign of “systematic and institutional exclusion of people of color.”

Selectwoman Nancy Daly said Brookline has had very few minority applicants for jobs with the town, and there has been no discrimination towards them. Daly said Brookline is working to recruit more diverse candidates for town jobs.

She said selectmen halted making appointments to the commission earlier this year while a special committee looks at updating the charge and responsibilities of the commission, which was established in 1970.

Since selectmen stopped making appointments, she said the number of resignations from the commission kept rolling in, including some by minority members.

“It’s clear there is something drastically wrong with the dynamics of the commission,” Daly said.

Instead of asking Selectmen to appoint three specific candidates for the commission Wednesday, Town Meeting opted for substitute motion by the town's Advisory Committee that asks the board to make enough appointments so the commission can get a quorum.

The advisory committee argued that Town Meeting should not be picking specific people to serve on the commission, but selectmen should fill the vacancies, according to member Michael Sandman.

“We want to see the commission get back to work just as the petitioners do,” Sandman said.

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