Tough to swallow—even harder to digest—were statements made by New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU, Nassau County Chapter) Director Susan Gottehrer at a recent Village of Great Neck (VGN) Board of Trustees meeting. Gottehrer’s appearance did not endure a tedious village agenda in order to wish those in attendance Happy Thanksgiving. Be skeptical, she advised. Be very skeptical of outside consultants who attempt to sell (unsuspecting) leaders a bill of goods. The Smart City wireless technology system authorized by the mayor and board (with minimum public awareness—let alone public awareness of the system’s full range of capabilities) had been recommended by a consulting company with a poor track record, she said. And, this new, untested system, for which Great Neck residents will be the guinea pigs, has an extremely high-failure rate elsewhere, she warned.
At the conclusion of a rather unnerving, eye-opening letter which she read aloud (and submitted to Village Attorney Peter Bee), Gottehrer advised that if they failed to have thorough understanding and answers to the points she raised—with respect to safe practices and procedures for data—then our elected leaders were not in a good position to go forward with this imminent project. Her abbreviated remarks were as follows:
This system (with the addition of two wires) has audio and video surveillance capabilities. Did someone forget to share this information with Village of Great Neck residents?
This system will collect data. Do our elected officials fully understand who will be in possession of this sensitive data? Do they understand the term “hacking?” Who in the village has the skill set to manage the Smart System (and the sensitive data) after the 10-month initial pilot program?
Do elected officials understand the consultants they authorized are merely middle men who will be hiring more contractors to perform this complex installation? Did I mention that these (original) consultants have a poor track record? Shouldn’t all recommendations by these consultants be viewed as highly suspect?
Two concerned Great Neck residents have given hundreds of unpaid hours of their time over two years to deliver a similar message, but they did not possess the credibility of the NYCLU. So, while the satisfaction of finally being validated may be sweet, the message remains the same. Not all technology is good technology. Not all consultants, with sweet talk and big promises, should be invited into our incorporated villages to make sweeping changes that may or may not be in the public’s best or secure interest. Tomorrow, when you start your day, sprinkle a healthy dose of skepticism on your cornflakes.
Are you listening Long Island leaders? Are you listening VGN Board of Trustees? By the way, did you fail to inform the Great Neck public before unanimously awarding and upping another new consultant’s fee from $10,000 to $100,000? This recently approved contract is intended to authorize consultants to assess Middle Neck Road for future growth and development. Why are you planning on obtaining public input after the consultants have already lined their pockets? What happened to public input first and transparency first?
Let’s be thankful for the gift of free speech and let us turn these scenarios around—before the damage is done—and the damage is lasting. We are counting on you, Mayor Bral, to get it right.