Geauga County Keeping Tabs on Citizens

[LFC Comments: Thanks to the patriots at Auburntownship.org for this article. Geauga Commissioners are spending taxpayers’ money to determine what the taxpayers are saying about the Commissioners.

There is no mention of the reeducation camps being activated in Geauga County…well, this year anyway.

The Geauga County Commissioners need to be more transparent with their taxpayers, and make public meetings available through live streaming or recorded videos.]

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Official Likens County Subscription to ‘Big Brother’

OCTOBER 6, 2020

Geauga County Maple Leaf
BY CASSANDRA SHOFAR 

CONCERNS RAISED AT ADP MEETING OVER COMMISSIONERS MONITORING SOCIAL MEDIA

The Geauga County Commissioners’ recently-signed contract with a company that will monitor social media platforms in the county to gather information on “hot button” issues has raised the hackles of a few officials.

The Geauga County Commissioners’ recently-signed contract with a company that will monitor social media platforms in the county to gather information on “hot button” issues has raised the hackles of a few officials.

“It sounds to me like Big Brother is watching,” said Geauga County Recorder Sharon Gingerich Oct. 5 via email.

Gingerich and county Clerk of Courts Denise Kaminski both voted against the commissioners’ purchase of a subscription with Zencity Technologies Ltd. during a Sept. 30 Geauga County Automated Data Processing Board meeting. The proposal passed in a split 7-2 vote.

Zencity is an artificial intelligence-driven platform that aims to help local governments better serve and connect with their communities by collecting and analyzing “millions of data points,” according to its website. It was founded in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2014.

“Denise and I both had concerns. Hers were different than mine, as hers were on the financial side of this expenditure of county funds,” Gingerich said. “I looked at it as a taxpayer. I am not crazy about the idea of paying taxes to the county to look at what I am saying about them on social media. Not that I ever said anything, but it’s the principle of the thing. And, it’s creepy.”

County Auditor Chuck Walder said the purpose of obtaining ADP board approval for this type of purchase is not to determine its merits or benefits, “but rather to be assured and satisfied that the purchase conforms to specific technology standards so as to safeguard the county network and infrastructure.”

“To that end, per the county administrator, the Zencity technology product would not reside on the county’s network, but would be accessed potentially through the county’s network,” said Walder, who’s also an ADP board member. “From that evaluation standpoint of the information provided by the commissioners office, there does not appear to be anything nefarious or malicious with the product’s access through the county network.”

He added, “The philosophical merits of the product are best answered by the party requesting its purchase.”

Commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of a one-year contract with Zencity for $26,000 during their Aug. 11 meeting. Commissioner Tim Lennon opposed the agreement.

With the ADP board’s recent approval, the subscription goes into effect immediately, County Administrator Gerry Morgan said.

“This is for … gathering information for what is going on in the community,” Morgan said during last week’s ADP board meeting. “They (Zencity) go out and they actually gather what’s being discussed on Facebook or Twitter, or anything like that — what people are talking about within the county — so that commissioners, if we hear something that (people are) having a discussion (about), and the information that’s out there is not correct, we can get that information out to them.”

Kaminski and Gingerich both expressed confusion and concerns about the purchase during the Sept. 30 meeting.

“I don’t understand why you would check social media sites for what people are thinking or talking about. I could be wrong, but it just seems like a lot of money for something like that,” Kaminski said. “Wouldn’t people just contact you if they had a question or concern?”

Morgan said while they do receive questions and concerns from the public, this is more about getting information on discussions that haven’t reached that point yet.

“It’s more of just knowing what’s being discussed out there. Another example is the Chardon Schools Thin Blue Line flag controversy,” Morgan explained. “We don’t have somebody sitting here who is checking Facebook and knowing what’s going on. So, we would have been able to hear about it earlier … we wouldn’t have found out about it four or five days later.”

Kaminski countered in her opinion, the Chardon Schools issue was not a county commissioners issue.

“I don’t understand why something like that would even be helpful. I’ll be honest with you, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but maybe I just don’t get it,” she said. “Whether it’s good, bad or ugly, or whatever, I mean I encourage everybody to call me, talk to anybody in my office. That’s what open communication is. As far as elected officials and any county office. That’s what we do, we communicate with whomever whenever.”

Commissioners, however, do not video record or stream their public meetings — unlike many county government entities in light of COVID-19 — making their meetings, as well as the opportunity for public input, less accessible. [LFC Comments: However, they can spend $26,000 to have a company check social media accounts????]

Further explaining the service, Morgan said Oct. 5 it is a license agreement to access the Zencity website, through which it provides information it has gathered from public forums.

“This can be focused on topics as the county requests … or on topics that Zencity’s program picks up as ‘popular,’ for example, numerous comments on the health district or the county fair,” Morgan said. “This information being provided will give the commissioners’ office a heads up on items being discussed that have not risen to the commissioners yet, or to see if information being disseminated is incorrect — like (that) the new (county office) building … will cause taxes to be increased — and to get the correct information out.”

He added, “It will also provide additional information on issues that the commissioners receive emails and phone calls on by telling the office if this is a bigger issue because it is being widely discussed or if it is maybe an issue — while still being taken seriously — that is only of most concern to the individual caller.

Morgan said the commissioners receive emails and phone calls on “numerous issues” they have no control over in the county.

“With this … the staff can be prepared ahead of time to answer questions from the public about the issue and to direct the caller or email to the correct person/office or agency that deals with the issue,” he said. “The information that is being obtained is all in the public domain; there is no targeting of any person or group or point of view.”

In her follow-up email, Gingerich said she understands this is a practice used by big corporations to monitor their image and to correct misinformation.

“That is the reason we were given in the ADP meeting … that it was to communicate with residents and that it would help the commissioners to help residents understand the truth in matters,” she said. “To correct misinformation and misunderstandings and give the truth when rumors are circulated. It was stated in the meeting that was how they found out about the Chardon Schools flag incident.”

Asked what safeguards the ADP board are using to ensure the data collected is not misused, Gingerich said, “I don’t know the answer to that, I voted no.”

Kaminski said in a follow-up phone call that while she expressed her concerns in the ADP board meeting, in hindsight, it was not the appropriate setting.

“It does not affect the county network,” she said, referring to the ADP board’s responsibility. “Looking at it at a different perspective, it wasn’t my place to judge something that would not affect the county network. It’s not up to me to judge what another county office wants to purchase.”

Board member Jim Flaiz added Oct. 5 the ADP board’s approval in no way reflects the board agrees with the purchase and/or utilization of the Zencity technology.

“It came before the ADP board because we have to approve all software contracts,” he said. “It is not the job of the board to substitute our judgment for the elected officials or departments making the purchase. Our review is limited and we are primarily concerned with maintaining the integrity of our systems.”

In response to a request for more information or further comment, Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri said, “Thank you for reaching out, but I will no longer comment to (the) Maple Leaf after their less than acceptable reporting.”

Commissioner Tim Lennon referred questions to Morgan.

Commissioner Jim Dvorak said this is a “watch and see” situation for him.

“I double checked with the contract, we can get out of it at anytime,” he said. “If I’m not happy with it, I’ll be lobbying to be get rid of this contract with the company.”

*****



Categories: Geauga, Ohio Counties

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  54. Hahaha…that probably took some hard nosed investigating to get to the bottom of that one.

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  55. We have confirmed that Lake County Commissioners do not use this tactic.

  56. Maybe they should just get off their lazy asses and go out into the public and actually talk to the people they are supposed to represent! This is very Big Brother. Next, they will be putting together the Ministry of Truth and requiring an hour of hate.

  57. Since conservatives are censored on social media sites, the results will be biased towards socialism. In any case, it is foolish to base decisions on gossip etc. that nobody felt was important enough to raise to the commissioners. It sounds more like the commissioners are spending taxpayer dollars to benefit their reelection campaigns. Reprehensible!

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