Recently Fred Schmidt posted a blog in response to our criticism of his flip-flop vote in favor of funding police surveillance cameras in Downtown Columbia. In his “Inside the Council” blog, Fred attempts to justify his vote in favor of the cameras. Not only did Fred campaign in opposition to the cameras, his First Ward constituents voted against the cameras by an overwhelming margin. I’ll take issue with his reasoning here.
The Council’s vote on May 16 was not a vote to undo the city’s electoral decision on whether to have cameras downtown. That vote had been settled in the election. The majority of the First Ward didn’t agree with that outcome. I didn’t agree. But we can’t undo the election–at least without another election on the issue or court intervention.
This statement is wrong on many levels. First, the “electoral decision” made by voters in April of 2010 merely authorizes the use of so-called “safety cameras” in the downtown area. Although the vote was construed as a mandate by its proponents, it most certainly was not.
Proponents also campaigned on the camera price tag of $50k with half coming from the Downtown CID. The contract that Fred approved carries a price tag of $75k with $25k coming from the CID. With the camera project coming in $25k over budget, Fred could easily have justified a “no” vote in spite of the so-called “electoral decision.”
Fred goes on:
I voted in favor of the motion because a vote against funding would have simply been a protest vote. It would not have changed the outcome. I chose, under the circumstances, to exemplify my willingness to work “with” the Council, not “against” it. You can be assured, that I will not always agree with the majority on the Council–nor will I do so just to be agreeable–but in this instance nothing would have been gained by a meaningless protest vote.
What Fred is saying is that he will always try to vote with the majority of the council regardless of the wants and needs of the First Ward and regardless of his own conscience. One thing is for sure, the First Ward needs a strong voice willing to stand up to the rest of the council — a council that is weighted heavily with pro-establishment representatives. With his vote on this issue and subsequent explanation, Fred has demonstrated that he does not possess the will or strength of voice to stand up to the rest of the council.
Policy analyst Eapen Thampy commented on Fred’s determination that following the will of his constituents would have been a “meaningless protest vote” in his Ducks and Economics blog.
To represent others in an elected, decision-making body is a difficult task. Nevertheless, Fred could have at least forced a council debate over spending priorities. The First Ward is short a fire company and lacks a competent police force, yet Fred could have represented his constituents by representing their views in open council and initiating a debate.
Moreover, there is a matter of integrity. One should not run for elected office opposing something and flip flop on that issue at the first available opportunity. Can First Ward voters trust Fred from here on out? Will any of the promises Fred made during his campaign stick or will we find that political expediency and power politics are the most important determinants of Fred’s vote?
Thampy is correct. There is nothing meaningless about a protest vote.
Fred goes on:
The civil liberties issues are complex. As Dan Viets points out, the ACLU is clear that they support the rights of private property owners to have security cameras. This extends to cameras that point away from a business into the street. In a similar vein, if you are on the street and decide to shoot video of what’s happening there, you have that right as a private citizen to do so. There are security cameras everywhere, and society by and large accepts them. For some reason, Keep Columbia Safe and Keep Columbia Free have rallied around only this one set of cameras.
Fred fails to see the difference between cameras owned and operated by private citizens and private businesses and cameras monitored by the state. Keep Columbia Free believes that property owners and business owners have the right to surveille from their own property and at their own expense. They are also free to share their camera footage with the government if they choose.
I wonder if Dan Viets agrees with how Fred has co-opted his words to justify a pro-camera vote?
And what sort of justification is Fred pointing to when he states “society by and large accepts them [surveillance cameras].” Societal acceptance does not make something right. At one time the chattel enslavement of humans was accepted by society by and large. That did not make slavery morally acceptable.
Fred should also do a little homework on Keep Columbia Free. We openly oppose government surveillance technology in nearly every case. I’m not sure if Fred is demonstrating ignorance or merely lying when he says that Keep Columbia Free has “rallied around only this one set of cameras.”
While I had hoped Fred would prove me wrong and shake off his recent pro-establishment and authoritarian cloak, his public explanation has cemented my previous opinion. Will someone please remind Fred that he was elected by the First Ward to represent the First Ward? Pretty please!