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A decision best made collaboratively

January 19, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

It's understandable that there was a brouhaha in Wilmington over a surveillance camera town Supervisor Randy Preston set up to monitor the youth center there. While Mr. Preston seems to have had good intentions and doesn't seem to have done anything illegal, people are upset. He may have some apologizing to do if he wants to get re-elected.

Mr. Preston said he set up his camouflaged camera in a tree outside the youth center to catch the teenagers whom he believed were committing vandalism, smoking and drinking beer there. We certainly don't advocate such behavior by teens, but even if a video camera was justified - and that's debatable - the discussion and the resulting decision should have been made in concert with the youth center director and the town board, in public. If that tipped off the problem teens, well, mission accomplished - they'd stop hanging out there.

But since the youth center director didn't know about the camera, she was properly suspicious when it was found in a tree, spying on the young people she was charged with caring for. And it was improper for the town board to try to suspend her as a result. She got so mad she stormed out of a town board meeting and quit.

"My job is to protect those kids," she told one of our reporters afterward. "If a predator had put that camera up, I would have been a hero."

That's correct.

The scenario is a lesson on the danger of authority figures going it alone. Spying on the public's behalf can be justified in some cases, but it's complicated and controversial. People value their privacy and will often mistrust a government official who is found, suddenly, to be spying on people.



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