Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Gloucester Supervisors Pause Proposed Audio Recording Policy

On Tuesday night the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors refrained from giving County Administrator, Brent Fedors clearance to implement his proposed “Audio Recording Policy” on June 1, 2017. The supervisors and Mr. Fedors somewhat discussed the proposed policy in public, but the supervisors eventually reached a consensus that they wanted time to come up with written remarks they could circulate to Mr. Fedors and each other.  They ultimately tabled the proposal until the first meeting in June. 

Mr. Howard Mowry of Gloucester Point spoke against the proposed policy during the citizen comment portion of the meeting and we emailed our concerns and suggestions to Mr. Fedors and the supervisors prior to the meeting. 

It is noteworthy that during his presentation, Mr. Fedors used Animal Control's use of audio recording devices as an example of a successful use of such devices. Gloucester's Animal Control Department should be required to wear tamper proof body cams whenever they are out in the community. That department has a long history of distorting the facts which, in some instances, has cost people their animals, money, property and their sanity.

For your convenience we have provided videos of the proposed policy portion of the meeting, the video of Mr. Mowry’s public comments and our email to Mr. Fedors, his response and his proposed “Quality Assurance Audio Recording Policy”.

Proposed Audio Recording Discussion:

Mr. Howard Mowry's Public Comments:

Our Email to Mr. Fedors and the Supervisors:

The following comments are in regard to the County Administrator’s proposed, “Quality Assurance Audio Recording Policy”:

Audio recording devices, used in the manner proposed, will not capture the full picture of interactions between the government and the People. Furthermore, such recordings, which will be started, stopped and maintained solely at the government’s desecration, can easily be manipulated in favor of the government. The scales of power are always to be tipped in favor of the People; as government, and its employees serve at the pleasure and for the benefit of the People.

There is nothing contained in the proposed policy that establishes criteria/rules for determining the circumstances in which interactions are to, or may be, recorded. There is nothing contained in the proposal that establishes criteria/rules for determining which recordings are to be kept longer than the proposed initial retention period. How are the People supposed to know what to expect and more importantly, what say will the People being recorded have on how long a recording is retained? Will there be a documented chain of custody to protect the integrity of the recordings? Will the recordings be edit/tamper proof? How will the identities of the persons recorded be authenticated and how will the recordings be authenticated to be complete, accurate and free of alterations?

I recently suggested that equipping Animal Control with body cams would be a good way to promote integrity on both sides of public service transactions and is the most reliable way to document contentious situations. Body cams are a good way for leadership to insure county employees are not hanging out at the Yacht Haven pool or a back road store or driving from the courthouse to Farm Fresh at Wicomico and back just to visit their bank at ten thirty in the morning, or picking up Valentines Day treats at multiple shops in one of the local shopping centers. Leadership will also be able to physically see whether or not employees are properly and effectively doing their jobs and acting accordingly when they encounter citizens out in the community.

I now suggest equipping Animal Control and the other government employees outlined in the proposal with body cams instead of pursuing the outdated and controversial audio recording path.

Body cam equipped employees should be required to turn the camera on once they leave the office for the community and not turn it off until they return to the office. Customer service desks should be equipped with fixed, continuous record cameras and all interactions with the public should occur in the open environment of the customer service desk. The monitoring of phone calls should be done either at random or continuously. Recording such conversations any other way in the absence of clear protocol on when to record and not record does not support the proposed quality assurance enhancement assertion or objectives and appears to be more of a way to get the goods on someone than a way of enhancing quality assurance.

Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point 

The County Administrator's response:
Mr. Hogge -

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

I am faced with a decision on audio recording, and I have three potential paths...

1.  Disallow audio recording altogether,
2.  Allow audio recording absent a policy governing it, or
3.  Allow audio recording only in compliance with an established policy

I don't see option one as a viable path, as audio recording is already in use in many situations (e.g. Site Plan Meetings, etc.) and it proves to be a very valuable tool, both as a quality assurance measure and a productivity enhancing measure, not to mention promoting civil exchange among and between staff and patrons, as well as supporting accountability on all fronts.

I initiated the proposed policy because I did not feel that the "rules of engagement" for audio recording should be left to the individual employee to determine.  My goal is to establish a uniform policy for such recordings so that staff and patrons alike know what to expect with full transparency.

The policy as proposed has been through an extremely thorough vetting process, with multiple changes written in as we sought to anticipate practical implications of policy implementation.

I welcome your (as well as the Board's and the public's) feedback on the proposed policy.  As you are likely aware, I am not required to put Administrative Policies like this in front of the Board prior to making them effective - as the County Administrator, I am empowered to enact such policies at my discretion.  I have, of my own accord, placed this item on the Board's agenda in a spirit of full disclosure and transparency, hoping to get comments that will help me refine the policy further prior to its effective date.

As a side note, any patron can record any interaction among or between staff and patrons at any time in compliance with the law, without any obligation to indicate that such recording is being captured.  The proposed policy does not and cannot regulate the behavior of non-employees.

Thank you again for your comments, 


J. Brent Fedors
County Administrator
Gloucester County, Virginia
6467 Main Street
Gloucester, VA  23061
(804) 693-4042

The County Administrator's Audio Recording proposal:

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