Originally created 08/10/00

City's staff shows ire at surveillance



REIDSVILLE, Ga. - Welcome to Friendship City. Better watch what you say.

Reidsville, population 2,500, bills itself as Friendship City USA.

But four city workers aren't feeling too friendly toward their new mayor - he secretly videotaped every move they made at work for the past few weeks. The tiny camera was hidden in a ceiling tile at city hall, installed with the help of city police.

"You feel like you've been stabbed in the heart and in the back," said Debra Jordan, the assistant city clerk.

Ms. Jordan and her co-workers never dreamed that a camera was recording their every interaction - and the conversations of citizens who came by to pay a water bill or say hello.

Ms. Jordan and two of her co-workers each have spent more than 15 years at City Hall. Mayor Brad Barnard, a former city councilman, took office in January.

The women realized they were under surveillance last week. The tip-offs: a step ladder in the mayor's office and a police officer repeatedly going into his office and closing the door. The women confronted Mr. Barnard on Friday.

Mr. Barnard said he used the camera to check whether one of the women was rude to customers. He said Monday that he'd gotten more than 20 anonymous phone calls to that effect and that he tried to have another city worker approach the woman about the issue.

When that failed, Mr. Barnard said, he had no other choice than to investigate the allegations. He talked the matter over with the city attorney, then enlisted the help of the police department. He said he did not suspect the women of anything criminal.

"It wasn't that I was trying to spy on my employees," Mr. Barnard said. "I have a good staff. .ƒ.ƒ. I only did what I thought was necessary to resolve a problem."

Mr. Barnard said the employees did their jobs well on the tapes he watched, and the surveillance proved the allegations false. They should be proud of that, he said.

But the four women are anything but proud.

"We feel violated. Hurt. Devastated," said Linda Nail, whose desk adjoins Ms. Jordan's. City Clerk Gloria Coleman also works in the office. Sometimes, they have personal conversations with people who stop by to pay their bills. Those folks have been violated, too, they say.

But although wire-tapping phones and taping conversations on private property are strictly regulated, it isn't clear whether Mr. Barnard did anything illegal.

City Attorney Curtis Cheney said it's illegal to tape people in places with a "reasonable expectation of privacy" - such as a bathroom or a dressing room. But he doesn't think that there was a clear violation of state law.

Betty Adams, who has served on Reidsville City Council for six years and is the mayor pro tem, said Mr. Barnard was out of line even if he was within the law.

"Let me make it clear that none of the council knew that he was going to do that," Ms. Adams said. "I told him I didn't like the way it was done."