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Monday, Dec. 22, 2014

Students receive lessons in government operations

Sunday, March 6, 2005

(Photo)
Mock City Manager Cullen DeHart, seated left, and student Mayor Ryan Beaird consult with City Manager Doug Friend.
SIKESTON - Are cameras mounted on poles around the city good government or an invasion of privacy?

Student leaders from the Sikeston Senior High School tackled this issue during their mock City Council meeting Friday as part of the annual "Youth in Government Day."

The discussion on surveillance cameras was opened with a briefing by mock Department of Public Safety Director Austin McConnell.

During his briefing, McConnell said the city presently has two cameras - one at the corner of Main and Malone and the other at the corner of Branum and Malone which has resulted in a decrease in crime there.

McConnell said he would like to expand the program by placing additional cameras "in areas of high crime which will hopefully reduce the crime tremendously.

"It's going to know the whole story, see everything," McConnell said. "It's pretty much going to protect the people."

McConnell said he would like to see DPS get 28 more cameras, "but I don't think we'll get all of them. Hopefully we can get at least half of them."

The cameras would be put in "places that there has been a lot of activity we have had to take care of," he said.

To answer a question from Mock Mayor Ryan Beaird about the cost, McConnell consulted with DPS Chief Drew Juden who advised the yearly cost would be nominal although maintenance costs have not been tracked yet.

As for the cost to implement the system, the city will put out a request for proposals for vendors to submit bids on. "There will be different costs for different systems," Juden said.

"How long is it going to be until these cameras are out of date?" Beaird asked.

Juden said while computer technology is always producing "newer, better, faster" products, he predicted the cameras should provide at least five to 10 years of service.

Responding to another question about longevity, McConnell said the system's software can be updated.

In addition to seriously discussing the issue at hand, there were also lighter moments like when McConnell responded to a question from mock DPS Capt. Jordan Phenicie about how the cameras would affect patrols by advising, "I'm your boss, so I'll talk to you later in your office about it."

Addressing a question regarding privacy issues, mock City Counselor Sam Burke advised the cameras are not unconstitutional.

"Privacy is invaded every day," Burke said, offering as an example how people are often photographed without consent when they are in the background of a picture.

Mock City Manager Cullen DeHart said it is not an invasion of privacy for residents, but a tool "to keep them safe."

Fielding a question about who would be responsible for monitoring the system, McConnell answered: "I believe dispatchers are currently monitoring them" and said there would be "no additional cost to dispatch" to add cameras. McConnell also advised the camera's vendor should be able to handle repairs.

The cameras will not be used to prosecute traffic violations, McConnell said. "It will be crime pretty much," he said.

Jonathan Eftink, playing the role of John Q. Public, said it sounds like only African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods would be monitored but not Caucasian neighborhoods. "In your minds is this discriminatory?" he asked.

Meredyth Moyers, mock City Council representative for Ward 4, said a good indicator for future crimes is where past crimes take place, and crime is the deciding factor on placement - not race demographics.

Mock City Council members finished by approving a motion to further study the issue.

Following the meeting, Linda Lowes, director of governmental services, said it was a great session this year and that she could not recall a mock City Council meeting that elicited so many questions from the general public. "I was just so delighted with these kids - they're just so smart," she said.

Each year SHS students get the opportunity to assume the roles of city elected representatives and appointees thanks to the Sikeston Optimist Club, Sikeston Public Schools, the city, and financial sponsors which include Cargill, Tetra Pak, Pullen Brothers Trucking and the Standard Democrat.

Having held the event for nearly 20 years, "some of those kids now are out in the community, eligible to run for office," City Manager Doug Friend said.

"I think it's really a good thing. The students get to see a lot of behind-the-

scene stuff that goes on in the city," said Steve Lee, street superintendent, who participated for the first time this year by being paired with SHS student Alisha Fullerton.

Students began the day at 8:45 a.m. in the SHS cafeteria where they were paired off with their city counterpart.

"It's a lot different than last year," said Erin Wibbenmeyer, a junior at SHS who was paired with Jiggs Moore, director of the city's parks department.

She explained last year when she was paired with City Collector Vicky Jordan, students just stayed with a single city representative until the mock City Council meeting. "This year we got to tour all the facilities," Wibbenmeyer said.

Even though she has participated before, Wibbenmeyer said she still learned a lot this year. "It's been a lot of fun," she said. "I think it's a good experience to get to see how our city works, see everything in action - it's really neat."

A luncheon hosted by the Sikeston Optimist Club at the Clinton Community Building followed the mock City Council meeting. Students then toured the Board of Municipal Utilities and the Sikeston Power Plant before returning to school.