WATER WIZARD’s PETITION ON RECORDING POLICE PROVES PRESCIENT … GAETANI’S IDEAS, INCLUDING ON WATER SAVINGS, DESERVE FAIR HEARING
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY-TUESDAY, AUG. 18-19, 2014) — At the Aug. 12 city council meeting, Craig Gaetani, dubbed the Water Wizard for his role in c0-designing and building Pittsfield’s Cleveland water plant in Hinsdale, appeared twice — in person at the open mic and through a petition on the agenda.
Gaetani’s petition, filed Aug. 6, had nothing to do with water, however. It calls for the city to establish the right of private citizens to request that any official dealings they have with the city be, at their request, recorded. With the presence of “smart” technology, practically everyone has access to recording capabilities that are inexpensive, of good quality, mobile, and archivable.
Council president Melissa Mazzeo buried Gaetani’s petition 33rd on a 33-item agenda, one behind the councilor-at-large Barry Clairmont‘s petition on “100gate.” When the council finally got to it, councilor-at-large Chris Connell made a motion (approved) to refer the petition to the city solicitor. Gaetani’s petition, though, deserves a public airing. It does not deserve to languish in Kathy Degnan‘s office.
Gaetani’s Petition on Recording Police ‘Prophetic’
Given the explosive events in the St. Louis, Mo., suburb of Ferguson — where police shot and killed an unarmed black teenager — Gaetani’s petition proved to be prescient, almost prophetic.
The petition stems from an incident on July 29. He said he went to collect rent “from an errant tenant” in one of several condos he owns on Indian Street in Pittsfield. Gaetani said the tenant later called the police, who showed up at the residence of Dave Gaetani, Craig’s brother, “with a complaint that you guys were bothering him.”
Craig told THE PLANET, “My brother said to the cop, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ to which, according to Gaetani, the officer replied, “Tell you what. You say another word and we will arrest you, your brother, and your sister.”
Craig Gaetani, not hesitant about pressing his rights as a citizen, said he tried multiple times to call the police department to speak with chief Michael Wynn about the incident, only first to be treated rudely and then to be threatened with arrest. Police then referred him to, guess who, the city solicitor.
On Saturday (Aug. 16) Gaetani said he went to the police station to request a report of the incident. The police presented Gaetani with a public records request form, with a $5 fee payable to the city. He was told he would hear within 10 days. Previously, he said, when he requested records, he got them on the spot after paying the fee.
Payback by the Mayor?
Gaetani says Mayor Dan Bianchi is behind the refusal of the police to speak with him or give him the records on the incident, as well as behind the dumping of his petition with the city solicitor. He says the mayor is retaliating against him for speaking out against the threatening behavior he says Bianchi showed him in a visit earlier this year. That meeting was set up so Gaetani could discuss his ideas on cost efficiencies for the city’s water sewage treatment plant, which is in line for federally mandated upgrades. Gaetani, in partnership with Dr. Lawrence Wang, says the two can save the city tens of millions of dollars on the work.
THE PLANET concedes Gaetani’s behavior is direct, sometimes painfully so. And you know what?
That is beside the point.
There is only one salient fact: Can he and Dr. Wang indeed save the city that much money as they claim? The city says the upgrades will cost roughly $80 million dollars. Gaetani says he and Wang can do it for about $15 million. If there is the slightest chance of this being true, the city owes Gaetani and Wang a hearing. There’s nothing to lose and a chance to save millions.
And yet, from what Gaetani says, the mayor has bullied him in front of witnesses; DPU chief Bruce Collingwood has imposed discriminatory restrictions on Gaetani being able to enter the Cleveland plant to give tours; Gaetani’s petition on recording is being stonewalled; as is his attempt to get a routine police report. That’s quite a literal Craig’s list.
Not good. This is not how a civilized city treats its citizens.
Petition on Recording Should Be Taken Seriously
Gaetani petition was filed “on behalf of Pittsfield residents, especially taxpayers … and also for the protection of all city employees who work at city hall and city departments not at city hall.” The petition seeks to give these people the option of requesting “any city department” employee that phone conversations and live interactions be recorded.
“This policy should also include the police department,” the petition reads. Gaetani then mentions “several incidents between the police and a private citizen, whereby the police were very clearly wrong and the citizen was right. I personally requested to the [officer] that I be allowed to tape record conversation. … The policeman told me if I turn[ed] on [the] tape recorder he was going to arrest me.”
All of this brings of to Ferguson, Mo. We share this wire story, from Yahoo News:
“A suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, has been under a dramatic siege since Saturday, when a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the killing, protests have engulfed the community — drawing a heavy-handed police crackdown with St. Louis County police officers armed with assault weapons and outfitted with military equipment. Many of the striking images have come from reporters on the front lines, but also from citizens and their smartphones.
Around 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday night, a St. Louis County police line demanded that a crowd of protesters turn off their cameras. Minutes earlier, the police had ordered what appeared to be a peaceful crowd to disperse, firing smoke grenades and rubber bullets. But none of them have to turn their cameras off.
Here’s the deal: As a U.S. citizen, you have the right to record the police in the course of their public duties. The police don’t have a right to stop you as long as you’re not interfering with their work. They also don’t have a right to confiscate your phone or camera, or delete its contents, just because you were recording them.
Despite some state laws that make it illegal to record others without their consent, federal courts have held consistently that citizens have a First Amendment right to record the police as they perform their official duties in public. The Supreme Court also recently affirmed that the Fourth Amendment, protecting citizens from arbitrary searches and seizures, means that police need to “get a warrant” if they want to take your cellphone. (The ACLU has a concise guide to your rights, here.) And the U.S. Department of Justice under President Obama has affirmed the court’s stances by reminding police departments that they’re not allowed to harass citizens for recording them.
Sadly, these rights are not always respected by the police. Even journalists are being harassed in Ferguson in the course of their reporting. Earlier in the evening, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were arrested in a McDonald’s and later released with no explanation. Washington Post executive editor Martin D. Baron said Lowery was “illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers” and “slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed.”
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