Tonasket City Council raises privacy concern

TONASKET – Tonasket City Councilman Scott Olson has concerns about video surveillance being used in town without a policy in place. And while his motion at the council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 29, to curtail the use of such surveillance until a policy is written failed, he hopes his point was made.
The motion read, in part: “Until the Tonasket City Council passes a policy on the use of video/photo/audio surveillance including the reasons for the surveillance, use of the material gathered, what will become of the data gathered and how long it will be until it is destroyed, such electronic surveillance shall be banned except where allowed under a judge’s order.
“The intent of this motion is to suspend electronic surveillance by the City of Tonasket until a policy is in place. This action is not intended to set policy.”
Olson said he made the motion not because he felt such surveillance was being done improperly, but because there was nothing in place to define how and why the information would be gathered in public areas and what would be done with it.
“This isn’t about how the material gets used in court,” he said. “It’s about what happens to the material internally.”
He expressed frustration that he originally asked for a policy to be written when game cameras were purchased last fall in part to monitor for illegal dumping at Chief Tonasket Park. Despite multiple requests to police chief Robert Burks during council meetings, a policy was still not in place.
Burks was not in town last week and wasn’t present at the meeting for the discussion.
“I don’t want to create this policy,” Olson said. “The police department needs to write a policy that fits their needs. What I want is a policy before they start using (the cameras)…. It will in effect suspend camera use.”
Olson and councilwoman Julianna Griffin voted in favor of the motion, while Councilwomen Jean Ramsey and Jill Vugteveen opposed. Councilwoman Selena Hines was absent and mayor Patrick Plumb abstained; at 2-2, the motion failed.
Ramsey, Vugteveen and Plumb, however, supported the intent of the motion.
“I would say ‘yea’ to the motion if we were fair enough to give them a timeline,” Vugteveen said. “We’re not going to wait another six months before it’s there. But we shouldn’t restrict the use of the camera as there’s been no abuse or history of it to this point. There’s no need to not trust that our officers aren’t doing their jobs appropriately.”
“I’m going to take this on myself to address,” Plumb said. “We want something done and we want something done soon. I’ll talk to Chief Burks…. the point is well taken.”

Introducing Zeus

Tonasket police officer Darren Curtis was on hand to introduce Zeus, the department’s K-9 Unit narcotics dog.
Curtis, who recently completed training with the dog, said that he and Zeus will be available to other law enforcement agencies within a 10 mile radius of town without having to request permission, and that they could be made available to more distant locales in some circumstances.
“Anything over that, would require them getting ahold of (Chief Rob) Burks,” Curtis said. “The county works really well with us; depending who was on duty they could arrange to cover town while I was out doing something for them, or Rob, Jim and Audra could be on call. If I’m duty, if I get called out, Rob is supposed to be working with the other agencies for paying my overtime wages if they have to call me out.”
Curtis said there is a possibility of being called out to work for other law enforcement agencies due to a shortage of narcotic-detecting dogs in the area.
“At this point the county doesn’t have a set date to replace the dogs they’re losing,” Curtis said. “And the Port of Entry doesn’t have any.
“With Border Patrol and Homeland Security funds and stuff like that, it might increase the funds that we can get from them if they ask, since we have a dog they can do interdiction on since we have a nexus to the border.”

Parking solution proposed

Lisa Andrews, who petitioned the council for a solution to the South Tonasket Ave. parking issue a month ago, returned to deliver a proposed revision to the city parking ordinance that would address both lack of parking and street access.
Andrews met with Police Chief Rob Burks and city public works Superintendent Bill Pilkinton before crafting the proposal, which would cover South Tonasket Ave. between Third and Division.
Currently the ordinance on that stretch of road – which has dwellings only on the west side of the street, most without driveways – allows no parking on the east side of the street, and no parking on the west side from 2-6 a.m. The primary issue is allowing room for snow removal during the winter months.
“We propose to exempt change the ordinance from the east side of the street to no parking from 2 a.m to 6 a.m. from Nov. 1 to March 31, since the only real problem we’ve had is night time snow removal,” Andrews said. “And on the west side, to exempt Tonasket Ave. between Third and Division from the no parking ordinance.”
“So basically it just formalizes what has been the ‘handshake agreement’ that we’ve had over the years,” said Mayor Patrick Plumb. “We’ll ordinance draft for this alone, and get it passed along to you to review so that you can see that it’s what you intended.”
The proposed ordinance would not cover other areas of Tonasket Ave. that have similar parking issues, as it would be drafted to cover the unique configuration of the road between Third and Division.

Improvement projects reviewed

Kurt Holland and Dan Conger of Varela and Associates presented the proposed sidewalk and street improvement plan to the council. The plans include revisions of the most of the Whitcomb Avenue cross walks, the installation of a crossing signal at Second and Whitcomb for safer access to hospital parking; and the a variety of improvement projects on Sixth, Fifth and Third between Whitcomb and Western Avenues.
In other council actions, Gloria Jones was approved as member of the Library Board; a public meeting for review of city codes was scheduled for March 6; and the council accepted Coleman Oil Company’s bid for 2012 gas and diesel supply (Coleman was the lone bidder).
The next Tonasket City Council meeting will be Tuesday, March 13, in the council chambers at City Hall.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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