Security camera inflames Smyrna feud

SMYRNA -- A dispute between Smyrna's mayor and a councilman - who happen to be next-door neighbors - has triggered allegations of high-tech harassment and set tongues wagging throughout town.

Councilman Patrick J. Cahill charges that a newly installed security camera on the side of Mayor Mark Schaeffer's house is invading his privacy. A spokesman for Schaeffer denied that, saying the camera is there for security.

The camera dispute is the latest flare-up of hard feelings between the two town leaders. Last year, Cahill received a citation from a town code-enforcement officer for having abandoned property - his 30-foot sailboat - in his yard. Cahill successfully appealed the citation, saying he was repairing the boat.

That was followed by a Town Council proposal to define boats that can't be readily moved as "solid waste." That ordinance went nowhere, but it prompted Cahill to mount a successful effort to win a seat on the council last spring.

The latest incident started Saturday when Cahill called police after his wife spotted the camera from the bedroom window of their south Smyrna home.

"She was upstairs getting dressed," Cahill said. "She turns and looks and there's a video camera staring up at the window at her."

Smyrna police took the initial complaint, but Delaware State Police investigated the incident and determined no crime had been committed.

"There was no evidence it was pointed at the bedroom, and the camera was not even hooked up," Cpl. Jeff Oldham said. "It wasn't operable at that time."

Schaeffer refused to discuss the complaint, but Dover attorney Ron Poliquin, speaking for Schaeffer, said the camera never was pointed at Cahill's window.

"Absolutely not. It's ridiculous," Poliquin said.

Cahill said the camera now points toward his driveway and his yard, but his concern has not eased.

"When a video camera is pointed at one's own property, that is clearly a security camera. When it's pointed at a neighbor's property, that's surveillance," Cahill said. "This camera is clearly pointed at my property, not at all at his property, and that makes it very obvious to me that he's simply recording everyone who comes in and out of my house."

Poliquin said the camera is in a fixed position and is there for security. The camera is activated by a motion detector. The range of the device could not be determined.

"It has no capability to zoom in on anything. There's no way, he said. "It doesn't have the capability to do anything other than take still images of people on the property."

Poliquin and town Police Chief Richard Baldwin said the dispute should not be publicized because that could jeopardize the safety of the mayor and his family.

Former Councilman Leonard Rippa, who said he and other townspeople were aware of the Cahill-Schaeffer dispute, scoffed at the notion that Schaeffer's position would put him in the sort of danger that would require video monitoring of his property.

"I wouldn't subscribe to that rationale that because he's mayor he needs more security. I really think that's one of the safest areas in town. I think it's kind of a red herring," Rippa said. The neighborhood where the two sparring officials live is a quiet community of single-family homes.

"I never got any threats in the three years I was on council," Rippa said, noting that he was an outspoken supporter of the controversial plan for the Wal-Mart distribution center, and a vocal opponent of the town's annexation of land in lower New Castle County.

"It's a funny thing about Smyrna: The only time I ever got any telephone calls was if someone had a problem, if their electric bill was screwed up or they had a problem with their curbs or gutters," Rippa said.

Dr. Douglas Chervenak, a family physician with a practice in Smyrna who lives across the street from Schaeffer and Cahill, said news of the incident has spread throughout town.

"I'm a family doctor. I see people from Smyrna and they're all talking about it. They know about it and shake their heads in disbelief," Chervenak said.

The security camera points in the general direction of his home as well, Chervenak said.

"It's very offensive to me and I think it makes the town of Smyrna look ridiculous," Chervenak said, adding that crime in the neighborhood is virtually nonexistent.

"The worst thing that's happened in the 16 years I've lived in Smyrna was when someone took a baseball bat to all the mailboxes," Chervenak said. In that case, he said, "Smyrna justice prevailed." The teenage culprit had to replace the mailboxes and apologize to the victims.

Now Cahill has an idea for an ordinance for the council to consider: one governing the use of video surveillance devices.

Longtime Smyrna resident David L. Jacobs said the Cahill-Schaeffer feud exemplifies small-town politics gone sour.

"In a small town, when people become involved in public office it's because they either have an ax to grind or they're after something," Jacobs said.

"It's a shame, it truly is. They're both good people. It's not good for the town."

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