GAITHERSBURG -- The city owns a drone and city officials are deciding what to do with it.
At a work session with Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council Monday night, Assistant City Attorney Frank Johnson and city spokesperson Britta Monaco presented options for using the unmanned drone aircraft, which the city purchased in June.
Johnson and Monaco said that the city’s primary interest was to use the drone for promotional and media activities.
“We have contemplated the use of a drone for quite some time,” Monaco said. “We, meaning the Public Information staff, have primarily contemplated its use for marketing purposes, taking areal pictures of our festivals and special events.”
Other proposed uses for the drone include GIS data collection, inspection of stormwater management and public construction projects, and limited use for Public Code enforcement and animal control.
Darline Bell-Zuccarelli, a longtime community activist in the city who ran for mayor last year, took to the podium to voice privacy concerns.
“I need to hear you say, Jud Ashman, that this drone will not be used for surveillance,” Bell-Zuccarelli said.
Ashman and Council members stressed the city’s lack of interest and the impracticality using the drone for surveillance purposes or to issue any sort of citations to Gaithersburg citizens.
“The city has no plans to use the drone for traditional law enforcement,” said Council Member Ryan Spiegel. “I strongly feel that it should not be used for that, given the legal repercussions we might face.”
Johnson reviewed several options for certifying the city’s drone with the Federal Aviation Administration, all of which would require an experienced contractor to operate the craft and would place varying degrees of restrictions on its use in public spaces.
Council member Neil Harris said the cost of the drone’s operation and certification might outweigh its potential benefits.
“As much as I love cool gadgets, and this is a cool gadget, I do have questions before I get on board with this,” Harris said. “If the initial impetus for this was to take pictures and videos of our events, given the amount of overhead and privacy regulations we’ll face, I have to ask if we wouldn’t just be better off paying someone a few hundred dollars an hour to do videography.”
If the Council funds the drone program, staffers said they hope to have it operating by spring or summer.