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Politicsby Fern Shen8:01 amMar 25, 20200

Virtual BOE meeting – with no public input opportunity – to consider spy plane agreement

Board President Brandon Scott, former Councilman Carl Stokes and the ACLU ask for a deferral of the controversial plan, which was put before the board by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young

Above: Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems’ camera-mounted planes can record footage of every car and person outside in a 32-square-mile area for hours at a time. (www.pss-1.com)

Just as the Board of Estimates is about to conduct its first virtual meeting – one that lacks a mechanism for members of the public to participate and protest – one of the city’s most controversial proposals is on the agenda.

An aerial surveillance program agreement between the Baltimore Police Department and Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems is set to be approved at this morning’s meeting.

Calling it “a privacy nightmare come to life, ” the ACLU of Maryland has raised strong objections to the plan, which would have three planes flying over Baltimore as early as the first week of April, collecting footage supporters say would aid in combating violent crime.

UPDATE: The BOE today deferred action on this item for one week.

Former Councilman Carl Stokes called on the BOE to defer the vote “until the public has a chance to be heard and until we have a full understanding of the funding expectations.”

“We have to get our hands around violence in Baltimore but we must be transparent in all our actions. I have not seen anything that proves this surveillance program is effective,” Stokes said in a statement.

Council President Brandon Scott, who sits on the board and who has asked for action on the agreement to be deferred, “believes something of this significance must be reviewed thoroughly and transparently,” his spokesperson, Stefanie Mavronis, told The Brew.

The City Council has not been briefed on the six-month surveillance program agreement, which also has not been released to the public.

Brady Bunch Visuals

Members of the Board of Estimates will attend the meeting virtually using the WebEx platform, Scott has announced.

The Hyman Pressman Room, where meetings usually take place on Wednesdays, will be closed to the public.

The public will be able to listen to the meeting via phone – call 1-408-418-9388 and use access code 711 183 482.

And those with access to cable TV or internet will also be able observe the virtual meeting by tuning in to CharmTV (Channel 25) and online at the Charm TV live link.

What will these viewers see since the five board members will not be in the meeting room?

The spending board members’ faces will appear in boxes on the screen simultaneously, “kind of like the Brady Bunch,” Mavronis quipped.

Scott hopes to increase opportunities for public input at the meetings, Mavronis said, “but it’s a work in progress – we’re still troubleshooting it.”

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