Surveillance technology back before Northampton council on Thursday

  • Northampton city hall File photo

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council will once again take up the high-profile issue of restricting the operation of municipally operated surveillance technology downtown, including video cameras and other recording device. But with the mayor still threatening to veto the proposed ordinance, the debate looks to be far from over.

The council will also discuss a resolution that supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years when it gathers Thursday evening at 7 in the council chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.

The ordinance restricting surveillance technology passed by a 7-1 vote at its first reading, after considerable debate. One of the most prominent critics of the ordinance, however, Ward 5 Councilor David Murphy, was not present at the meeting. A second reading is scheduled to take place at the council’s Thursday meeting.

The ordinance puts heavy restrictions on fixed surveillance technology — cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition systems — that are in place for more than a day in the downtown business district on land owned, leased or controlled by the city.

Although it allows for cameras in time-limited criminal investigations, for emergencies, at parking structures and on the police station on Center Street, other uses would be prohibited. It will not apply to cameras on police cruisers in their typical use.

Mayor David Narkewicz said that he would veto the ordinance even before it passed on first reading, and he confirmed Tuesday that this is still his intention.

The mayor will have to include a statement in writing with his veto explaining why he is doing so.

City Council Vice President Ryan O’Donnell, who has been a champion of the ordinance, said that the council will have to take up the ordinance once again after Narkewicz vetoes it.

“There’s no alternative,” said O’Donnell, noting that it’s a matter of statute.

Such a consideration must happen not less than 10 business days nor more than 30 days from the return of the vetoed ordinance to the council.

It takes a vote of two-thirds, or six votes, of the city council to override a mayoral veto. Narkewicz has said that he can remember using this rarely-used power only once before, and that the council chose not to override his veto in that instance.

O’Donnell believes the votes are still there to pass the ordinance on second reading this week. In first reading, the lone dissenter was Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell.

Minimum wage

Another high-profile issue that the council will discuss is the minimum wage.

A resolution to be introduced Thursday, sponsored by O’Donnell and Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Carney, supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a period of five years.

It also supports raising the subminimum wage, which is paid to many tipped workers, to the minimum wage over eight years. Additionally, once the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour, the resolution supports indexing it to cost-of-living increases.

In order to accomplish this, the bill supports two bills in front of the state Legislature.

“Rents are so high in Northampton,” said O’Donnell, when asked why he supports raising the minimum wage.

He also said that economic vitality depends on people being able to meet their basic needs.

As for why the resolution is supporting the legislative path, as opposed to a ballot measure, O’Donnell said that the legislation exists right now, and a ballot measure is not yet on the ballot.

He also said that legislation may forestall the need for a ballot measure. He said the resolution is intended to support the policy, not how it comes to fruition.

“We wanted to lend our voice,” he said.

O’Donnell said he has not witnessed major negative effects on the economy as the minimum wage has gone up to $11 an hour over the last few years. He also said that the proposed timeline for raising the wage to $15 an hour seemed reasonable, but that this was why it was important to study and debate the issue.

“There’s no question it has to go up at some point,” he said.