LOWELL -- The City Council unanimously requested Tuesday night that City Manager Kevin Murphy investigate why the city funded video surveillance of a library aide even after she was off the payroll, which included a private firm obtaining footage of the woman's mother in her home.

In response to a request from Mayor Rodney Elliott, Murphy pledged that under his watch the city will never again use Absolute Investigations, the firm that conducted the surveillance of former library assistant Diane Cloutier last fall and that has investigated other employees.

Councilors also unanimously voted for the city administration to establish guidelines for the use of surveillance and provide information to the council about city spending on surveillance in recent years, including a list of others the city paid to have watched.

The actions come in the aftermath of a Sun report that seven of the nine days city-funded video surveillance of Cloutier took place were after she was off the payroll.

City officials have not said why they were surveilling Cloutier, who had previously filed legal claims against the city.

Elliott said in addition to learning why Cloutier and her mother were surveilled, he wants to know who ordered the surveillance and who signed off on its use. Those responsible for what he called a "gross abuse of government power" must be held accountable, said Elliott, who filed the motion calling for a probe.

"If we do nothing about this, then we are saying it is OK to pay for surveillance of private citizens that the government doesn't like," said Elliott.


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"We will be saying it is OK to fund personal vendettas with taxpayer dollars. I don't think that's the message we want to send to taxpayers who funded this witch hunt."

City Councilor Corey Belanger also said he was troubled by the surveillance of Cloutier.

"The city crossed a line here," Belanger said. "There's no two ways about it."

He said the city must get to the bottom of what happened, while also trying to ensure something similar does not happen again.

Cloutier, who worked for the city for 15 years before she alleges she was terminated in late October, says she plans to sue the city and current and former city officials for invasion of privacy because of the surveillance.

Elliott said Absolute Investigations of East Bridgewater should never be used by the city again. He pointed to the fact that they took surveillance of Cloutier's 79-year-old mother putting up Christmas decorations in her home as part of the video they took last October through December.

Murphy told the council: "You have my word, we won't be using them."

After the meeting, Murphy told The Sun he came to that conclusion after seeing the video Absolute took of Cloutier and her mother.

"I viewed the video and I don't think it was a very professional product," said Murphy, who previously said there was a section of the video that was "inappropriate."

City Solicitor Christine O'Connor previously told The Sun the city has no contract with Absolute. The city paid the firm $27,142 from Nov. 21, 2008, to Oct. 14, 2010 for investigating employees suspected of wrongdoing.

Belanger and Elliott said the surveillance of the former library worker made them wonder who else the city has paid to have followed.

Councilors re-approved a motion they had unanimously approved in June seeking a report on city spending on surveillance the last five years because they have received no response.

Elliott said he wants a breakdown of all the payments and the accounts the payments have been made from, as well as who was surveilled and why. Councilor Ed Kennedy and the mayor suggested the city auditor could help provide the information.

Asked about the lack of city response to the request, Murphy said: "I've been waiting for the city solicitor to give me that report."

Councilor James Milinazzo cautioned that the list of employees may have to be provided in a closed-door session due to potential legal issues.

Murphy said afterward of the list: "If we can publicize it, we will."

The council will also await a report on establishing policies and procedures for surveillance use, as suggested by the mayor. 

"I believe very strongly that surveillance should only be used in very extreme cases," Belanger said.

Milinazzo said he was eager to get a report from Murphy on proposed guidelines.

"I'm surprised we don't have detailed policies and procedures," Milinazzo said.

Follow Lyle Moran on Twitter @lylemoran.