Surveillance Whodunit Continues; Police Involved

In the context of a photo taken of a private meeting from a Town owned GCTV camera in the Cone Room at Town Hall, Town Attorney Wayne Fox summarized CT law on privacy. Note the April 11 Selectmen meeting was a public meeting and reporters took photos and made tape recordings. Note, Town owned GCTV camera mounted to ceiling of meeting room. April 11, 2019. Photo: Leslie Yager

Since Republican Selectmen declined to second Democratic Selectman Sandy Litvack’s motion on March 28 to launch an investigation into unauthorized surveillance at Town Hall, the subjects of the photo at issue have each filed a formal police report.

What appeared to be screenshot taken from video filmed from GCTV equipment mounted to the ceiling of the Cone Room showed Joanna Swomley and Melissa Evans who were campaign work for the Democratic party in September 2017.

Fast forward, and the photo was Tweeted by Ed Dadakis in January 2019.

At this week’s Board of Selectmen First Selectman Peter Tesei read aloud an email he received from Greenwich’s traffic operations coordinator Melissa Evans:

“Since the Board failed to pass a motion to investigate my and others’ complaints, I did as suggested by you and filed a complaint with the police department, as I believe at least one other victim of Mr. Dadakis’ harassment and online bullying did as well. It may be inappropriate for the town attorney to speak in a public meeting on the legality of this issue while a criminal investigation is pending.”

Town Attorney Wayne Fox said that while Connecticut is one of the few states without a statutory right to privacy, it is recognized under four fact patterns: (a) unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another; (b) appropriation of the other’s name or likeness; (c) unreasonable publicity given to the other’s private life; or (d) publicity that unreasonably places the other in a false light before the public.”

As for the photo of Melissa Evans and Joanna Swomley, Mr. Fox acknowledged it appeared the photo was taken from Town owned GCTV equipment.

Selectman Litvack, who happens to also be an attorney, said it remained unclear whether there was also an audio recording.

Mr. Litvack and Mr. Fox got into a long back and forth about what information Mr. Fox had collected, including whether there there might have been audio in addition to video, and whether either video or audio were authorized.

“If you look at the photographs I think that the evidence of microphones would have been evident. I did not see any in the photographs,” Fox said of the photo of Swomely and Evans.

“But you did not ask,” Litvack said.

“I did not see any microphones in the photographs,” Fox said.

“Have you made inquiry on that? Litvack asked.

“I have gathered documents,” Fox said.

“Have you made inquiry on that?” Litvack asked Fox. “Have you asked? Did you ask Peter? Did you ask John? Did you ask Drew Marzullo? Did anyone authorize this?”

“I have gathered information,” Fox repeated.

“That’s not my question. Did you ask them? Please, yes or no? You either or you didn’t,” Litvack said.

“I have asked for information as to who would have had access to the area on the day in question, based on the narrowing down of what we believe is the day in question.”

“That wasn’t my question,” Litvack said. “Did you ask whether or not someone was authorized? And the people you have to ask are the then selectmen. Did any of them, or did the Board of Selectmen, which I was not a member at the time, authorize it?”

“To the best of my knowledge it was not authorized by the Board of Selectmen,” Fox replied.

“But did you ask the individuals on the board whether or not they authorized it?” Litvack asked again. “It’s simple, you either did or you didn’t.”

“I did not, because there was no reason for me to do that,” Fox said.

“Whether there was reason or not, you did not do it,” Litvack said.

“I did not do it, nor should I have done,” Fox said.

“Well, if it was authorized, wouldn’t you want to know that?” Litvack asked.

“No, not at this point in time. That is not what I was asked to,” Fox said. “I was asked to gather information, which I did. I did not do an investigation because there was no reason or basis.”

“But you just said a moment ago you understood we were operating on the premise it was unauthorized, and I guess I’m asking you why you assume that?” Litvack said.

“Because there is no information which would suggest that it was otherwise,” Fox said.

“Well if you don’t ask the question, there’s never going to be information,” Litvack said.

“There was no reason for me to ask the question,” Fox said.

“And therefore you’re ignorant about the point,” Litvack said.

“I do not know whether it was authorized. There is no information I have which would suggest that it was,” Fox said.

At that point, there was a pause, and Selectman John Toner said, “I don’t consider myself an authority to be able to grant somebody to use that equipment. I do not have control over it.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Litvack said.

“Peter, did you authorize it?” Litvack asked First Selectman Tesei who was seated beside him.

“The equipment is under the auspices of a committee. It’s been that way for over a decade, including my time. Therefore, I have no ability or knowledge to work any type of equipment,” Tesei replied.

Former Democratic Selectman Drew Marzullo, who is in charge of GCTV on a volunteer basis, said, “I can say with 100% certainty that GCTV nor myself did not authorize.”

Tesei noted GCTV is primarily volunteer run and $225,000 is in the 19-20 budget to replace equipment, including mechanisms to allow people on the dais or in the Cone Room to know if the cameras and sound are off.

In the meantime Tesei said the GCTV volunteers “feel like aspersions have been cast on them.”

He said GCTV volunteer Horst Tebbe came up with a list of suggestions, including ways to restrict access to the recording equipment, including canceling card key access for anyone except operators and committee members, and changing the locks. He also suggested having a centralized control room for both Cone Room and the Town Hall meeting room, so that one volunteer can run both operations.

Another suggestion was for installation of video monitors that would alert meeting participants of cameras. Lastly, there was a suggestion to extend the length of time card key access information is archived. 

“I think this is what we really need to have happen,” Tesei said.

Tesei said he wondered if small stickers on the entry doors to Town Hall are adequate to inform people of video cameras in the hallways and cameras in the Cone Room and Meeting Room.

Litvack made a motion that Board of Selectmen create a three person committee to look at the  processes in place, how it failed, and how to remedy the situation.

Toner and Tesei declined to second his motion.

“These things are already being done,” Toner said.

“We are in the process of doing several of these things,” Tesei said. “We have the foundation to start and having the legal department involved is helpful.”

“While I won’t second the motion, I’ll take the motion and act on its intent which is to put those people together and give us a report,” Tesei said, adding that it would not be a committee, but rather an ad hoc committee.

“You have to include someone from GCTV,” Marzullo said.

“They ought to report back to us,” Litvack said. “And I strongly suggest that somebody on that committee be new to this whole thing. You need a new set of eyes.”

“Someone needs to follow up and make sure the ad hoc committee is in place,” Marzullo said. “And someone has to take the lead on this.”

“I agree,” Tesei said. “I think someone should stay with this issue. “I’d rather remove myself from that point of view.

On his Friday morning WGCH radio show Tesei said, the ad hoc committee will be under the auspices of the Town law department.

“We’ll be putting together a group of people to work through what is our current situation, how could a circumstance happen as is reported to happen, where someone was able to photograph an image of people in a room. As we make improvements to the system, how do we eliminate that potential from happening again?”

He said the Area 9 Cable Council, comprised of a consortium of communities is a good resource. The Area 9 Cable Council is a state mandated governmental body made up of appointed volunteer representatives in 10 municipalities.

“We can look at their safeguards and if they’ve had issues of similar circumstance,” Tesei said.