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W-B surveillance moves forward

Council member questions not-for-profit company that paid city employees.

WILKES-BARRE – Council Vice Chairwoman Kathy Kane has her eye on Hawkeye.

Kane voted against a resolution Tuesday that approved assigning $2 million of a state gaming funds grant to Hawkeye Security Solutions, the not-for-profit company founded in 2008 to oversee the creation, purchase and implementation of a citywide security camera surveillance system.

Council President Tony Thomas Jr. and council members Bill Barrett, Mike Merritt and Rick Cronauer voted for the resolution.

“I have questions,” Kane said before casting the lone no vote. “I am asking our legal department to do an in-depth review of the legalities of Hawkeye’s existence.”

The video surveillance system will enhance public safety, according to the company’s Web site.

J.J. Murphy, city administrator, has worked on the project for several years. He and two other city employees – Lou Lau and Frank Hershberger – were project consultants and paid by Hawkeye for their services. However, Murphy informed council before Tuesday night’s meeting that he and the other two city employees were now “volunteers.”

“We will no longer accept any stipends for working on behalf of Hawkeye,” Murphy said. “I will return all stipends I have received – about $3,000 – to the board of Hawkeye. I don’t want the stipends to be the story; this project is far too important.”

There are five volunteer board members of Hawkeye: Jim Fisher, a Wilkes-Barre police officer; Joseph Coyne, retired city police chief; Phil Latinski, former city councilman; Laure Brace, retired deputy city controller; and Frank Majikes, a school administrator.

“This is nothing against the Hawkeye board members,” Kane said. “But I can’t vote for a project if I’m not 100 percent sure of it. There are some pieces missing to the puzzle; I just don’t know yet what they are.”

Kane said she and council did not become aware of Hawkeye’s existence until long after several board meetings were held.

“I just don’t understand why so many things were kept from council,” she said.

Murphy said the Hawkeye board will convene April 14 to decide which vendor will receive the contract to design, install and maintain the city’s surveillance system. Murphy said proposals were received from 13 companies and four were chosen as finalists: TAC, of New Jersey; GTSI, Maryland; Let’s Talk Windows, New Jersey; and CDW-G, Maryland.

Murphy said a decision on the successful bidder should come Tuesday. He said there will be more than 100 strategically placed cameras throughout the city. He said the new technology will put Wilkes-Barre at the head of its class for cities of similar size.

“We will tie this to our wireless Wilkes-Barre system,” Murphy said. “We will be one of the few cities our size with a security system this sophisticated. The city has come a long way in six years when we didn’t even have Internet access in City Hall.”

Thomas said council supports the project and he sees it as a key security tool for local colleges and municipalities that could partner with the city in the future.

As far as Kane’s objections, Thomas said, “I thought we had answered all of her questions.”

Murphy said the system will take about six months to install and begin operating.

Mayor Tom Leighton and Thomas praised Murphy, Lau and Hershberger for their diligent work in bringing the project to the city.

“All of the employees involved work far more hours than what is required on behalf of the city,” Leighton said.

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