Tallahassee Democrat (Florida)
BYLINE: By, Jeff Burlew
The city of Tallahassee has put in place a new policy dictating when and how it can hire private investigators and take part in surveillance.
The administrative policy was approved Wednesday by City Attorney Jim English and Treasurer-Clerk James Cooke, according to a memo issued the following day. City commissioners asked for a policy in March.
The policy says the city won’t conduct any surveillance unless approved in advance by both the city attorney and the treasurer-clerk and that surveillance can be performed only by investigators properly licensed by the state. It also says only firms selected through a request-for-proposals process will be eligible to provide surveillance services.
The city’s use of private eyes became controversial earlier this year after employees of local landlord and City Hall critic Erwin Jackson discovered a private investigator outside one of his properties.
The investigator had been hired by the city as part of its defense against a small-claims lawsuit Jackson filed last year over a utility-easement dispute. The city won the case Thursday in a bench trial in Leon County Court.
Jackson, who’d asked for an “anti-spying” policy, said he’s thrilled the city has adopted the measure.
“My concern is I didn’t want to have one person … have the exclusive authority to decide who he would have spied upon,” Jackson said. “And there was no oversight whatsoever.”
Under the policy, the city attorney and treasurer-clerk will be responsible for the hiring of investigators for surveillance purposes and determining the scope of the surveillance required in each case.
The policy applies only to surveillance of people who have filed lawsuits or claims against the city that are in dispute. It does not apply to investigations involving the Tallahassee Police Department or matters involving workers’ compensation or the recovery of retirement benefits.
During the 2011 fiscal year, the city spent $392,277 on investigative services, though less than a quarter of the money, $76,913, was spent on traditional private-investigation firms that conduct surveillance. Most of the money went to the city’s claims adjuster for matters including crashes and workers’ compensation.
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