Mineola council OKs body cam policy

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Mineola Police Chief Chuck Bittner provided an overview of the department’s body camera policy during the regular February city council meeting last Monday.

A policy for the in-car cameras was already in place and the body cam policy was added to that.

Officers will not take the cameras home, but they will wear them if performing services in the city such as working security at ballgames, the chief said in response to a question from Mitchell Tuck, Ward 3 alderman.

The policy states that the officers “shall” activate their body cams and video recording systems to record audio and video of contact with most citizens. They are expected to use them, but can stop recording a victim or witness interview if it will elicit better cooperation. However, they’re not to secretly record other employees, can’t use them in dressing rooms or restrooms, in strip searches or encounters with undercover officers or confidential informants.

The devices can record up to 11 hours with 32 gigabytes of recording capability. Ward 3 Councilperson Novada Bigham asked if the officers are required to turn them on anytime they are in a pursuit. The chief said any time an event is going on the officer is required to turn on the recording device. If they are talking casually talking to someone, they are not required to do so, “unless things turn controversial.”

Mayor Rodney Watkins noted the policy does not affect the car camera policy. The policy was unanimously accepted by the council.

In the February meeting, the Mineola council also approved an ordinance stating all who had filed for city offices in the upcoming election are unopposed and will take office. They are Kevin White, mayor; Mitchell Tuck, Ward 3 alderman and Jack Newman, Ward 2 alderman.

The meeting also included approval of moving money from the general operating fund to the investment account. Finance Director Cindy Karch reminded the council that in October 2015 the city had to withdraw $249,978 from the investment account to cover normal operating expenses and those had not been replaced.

As of this January, she noted that the city operating cash account carries a balance of $992,915. With the expected expenses and revenues, the expected cash balance at the end of the year will be $366,322.

City Administrator Mercy Rushing noted the city needs to have three months operating expenses in the general fund at all times. Karch and Rushing proposed to move $175,000 from the general operating fund back into the investment account, and the council unanimously approved the request.

Also in the meeting Rushing gave the good news that the Meredith Foundation had sent a letter on what requests it was granting to the city. The Foundation had approved funding bulletproof vests for police officers at $29,480, portable radios for the fire department at $62,000, a sewer jetter for the water department at $58,548, the Railroad Heritage Park Project of the Landmark Commission at $120,942, operating funds for the museum of $33,000 and handheld radios for the police department at $9,100.

“I just think the Meredith Foundation has been and will continue to be such a blessing for the city of Mineola,” Rushing noted.

Also in the meeting Watkins said he thought a lot of things had come from the Mayor’s Advisory Council committees, but since he will be going out of office (in May) he felt it would be appropriate to suspend those committees. He said that he had appreciated the time and commitment that the members have given for the efforts.

On the subject of those committees, the Mineola 2040 Committee presented the long-term plan. Rushing reviewed the plan from the committee of which Bigham had served as chairperson and on which Ward 2 Councilperson Jayne Lankford had also served. She noted it was an outline and a planning tool and, among other things, it identified the need for an extension of Loop 564. It also called for the development of planning tools for public works concerning street, water and sewer and gas inventory and system maintenance.

Also noted as a need was an annexation plan within the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, including the enveloping of businesses and residences that are already utilizing city water and sewer services. The plan called for an affordable housing program and a new franchise hotel development. Rushing said that a study would need to be conducted to see if the amount of potential business would warrant another hotel.

Among the department head reports was documentation that Rushing had completed ethics training, that Building Inspector James Myers had completed International Association of Electrical Inspectors education and that Bittner had completed police chief leadership training at Sam Houston State University.

The street department reported work done to repair damage at the nature preserve that included gates, trail signs, a port-a-potty, signs and a grill. Vandals were reported at the preserve on Feb. 19 and the police department is investigating. The street department also tied in driveways on McDaniels Street where the new road left a gap. It was also noted the department had taken over the Mini Park at the intersection of Highways 69 and 37. “Cleaned it up and mulched flowerbeds and repainted pergola. Trimmed up all the trees,” it noted. Previously, the garden club had maintained the park as a garden for many years.

In the water department, William Crump reported 5.55 inches of rain in January, compared to 1.58 inches last year.

All council members were present with the exception of Sue Jones of Ward 1.

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