The uproar over Mayor Greg Nickels's sneaky move to circumvent the city council and install surveillance cameras in four city parks has centered on two issues: privacy (civil-liberties groups argue that monitoring citizens without their knowledge violates their civil rights) and process (Nickels got around a council rule restricting use of the money by dipping into a separate pot of funds).

But what bugs me about the cameras isn't either of those things. It's that at a time when the Seattle Police Department doesn't follow up on "minor" crimes, when more than 100 SPD positions remain unfilled, and when higher-paying suburban police departments are siphoning potential recruits from Seattle—well, it's hard to see how a few unmonitored closed-circuit cameras (police would view the footage only when citizens report a crime) are a sound use of $850,000 in city resources.

You would think the council would be concerned about this, too. During last year's council campaigns, virtually every council candidate pledged to make adding more cops a priority. In 2006, the council killed a Nickels proposal to spend $406,000 on five "park rangers," unarmed city employees who would patrol parks and serve as a visible, official presence to deter crime and make residents more comfortable in downtown parks. (The council said it was a waste of money—then approved six rangers late last year.) And just this year, the council blasted Nickels for failing to spend $600,000 on four new SPD support staff to work with the homeless, drug addicts, and the mentally ill.

So why aren't they blasting the mayor now? To listen to them, it sounds like they've just given up. "They're putting cameras in [Cal Anderson] Park because they're getting complaints about drug dealers and graffiti and people sleeping on the lawns," sighs Council Member Nick Licata. "So, what, people aren't going to get drunk if we put up cameras?" Nonetheless, Licata is leaning toward voting "yes." Council Member Tom Rasmussen says, "We'll see... whether they make any difference or improve safety in the parks." He added, "If I had my druthers, I would put the money into something else." As the chair of the committee (parks) that has the power to release funding for the rest of the mayor's cameras, you would think Rasmussen could have any damn druthers he wants; but, it turns out, even council members who have "concerns" seem resigned to funding the mayor's cameras—at least for a trial run.

That's too bad. There's not much point in shaking your fists if you're just going to give the mayor what he wants anyway. If the council thinks the cameras are a waste of money, if they think it's wrong for the mayor to ignore the rules that are supposed to dictate city spending, they shouldn't just say so.

They should vote that way. recommended