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Town staffer plans suit over 'spy' camera in office

Tracy Gurnett, a Recreation Department staffer who has already sued the Town of Wheatfield once, has filed another notice of claim accusing town officials of spying on her by installing a video camera in her office.

Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe and Town Attorney Robert O'Toole said this week that the surveillance camera was installed for security reasons and followed other cameras previously set up at other Recreation Department locations.

Political sources told The Buffalo News that the camera was installed in the wake of suspicion that Gurnett was using the town photocopier in her office to run off copies of election fliers last fall for her live-in boyfriend, former Supervisor Timothy E. Demler.

Cliffe and O'Toole declined to comment on that.

"When I'm under oath, that's the time to talk about it," Cliffe said. "It's a matter that I'd best not talk about because it's in litigation."

Cliffe defeated Demler in the 2009 election and again last year. In both cases, Cliffe won the Republican primary over Demler and then repulsed a Democratic challenger as well as a write-in bid by Demler in the November election.

In her Jan. 21 notice of claim, a mandatory legal step before filing a lawsuit against a local government, Gurnett charged that Cliffe, O'Toole and the Town Board were harassing her because of her support for Demler.

Gurnett, who works alone in an office at Fairmount Park, charged that the camera was installed, hidden in a smoke detector, on Oct. 31.

She said she learned of it Dec. 13, and her boss, Recreation Director Edward Sturgeon, confirmed the purchase. Attached to the notice of claim is a copy of an invoice for $1,675, paid to Eastern States Sentinel Alarm Services of Buffalo.

"Ed already has at his other buildings. The community center has it, the youth center has it," Cliffe said.

"Obviously we have to do what we can to protect employees," said O'Toole, who doubles as town human resources director.

He said Gurnett has not been disciplined in any way since the camera was installed.

He said the copier has a meter to document how many copies have been made, but not their content.

Gurnett said in her notice that what she called "spy equipment" violates her civil rights.

She said the move "turns a job that [I] loved into a job of constant stress, harassment and ridicule."

Gurnett sued the town in 2010 because newspaper stories and postings from Internet blogs about her and Demler were left out where people could see and comment on them, and one was even posted on a town bulletin board.

The News reported May 29, 2009, that the county GOP committee had withdrawn Demler's endorsement in that year's election, after committeeman Michael Gurnett complained about Tracy Gurnett leaving him for Demler.

O'Toole said he expects that any suit over the surveillance camera would be folded into the previously filed case.