Back in the dark ages (i.e. when I was on council) there was a journalist who drove us crazy even though he had been relegated to the back page of his publication.
The mayor of the day claimed that he did not read the local papers, yet this journalist made the mayor climb walls. On some occasions the writer appeared to be completely uninformed. His defence was that he was writing fiction for the entertainment of the masses. On the occasions he got it right there was much gnashing of teeth at the council table, all in camera of course.
We gave this journalist lots to write about — public processes where we ignored public input, sustainability, the Winter Games and so on. The shoe is on the other foot now. I am the one writing the opinion pieces, and this council is really irritating.
They have yet to make a serious mistake, which makes it hard to write anything that will hold a reader’s attention for more time that it takes to skim the center third of a column. There is simply nothing controversial in the council chamber to write about. Sure Steve Bayly stormed out of the last council meeting because council refused to rubber stamp fourth reading of his rezoning application. If he didn’t know that was coming he should have.
In desperation I thought I might write a piece about our increasing use of events to draw visitors to Whistler. It is obvious from the number of people walking around the Village that visitor numbers are up, and my suspicion is that events like Crankworx and Wanderlust are drawing them here. My publisher’s refusal to allow me any sort of a research budget notwithstanding, I called a manager in the hall who might provide some background information regarding the resources the RMOW had available to help entrepreneurs organize more events.
The manager returned my call promptly. He gently explained that there were polices in place to ensure that staff did not talk to people of the journalistic persuasion, and that councillors only spoke to the Fifth Estate on talking points provided by the Communications Department.
Don’t get me wrong; this manager is a sterling guy. He would gladly have taken as much time as necessary to explain how things worked locally in the event business, and the role the Hall could play in future. Currently policy says the manager can’t talk to me. I have a message from the Communications Department, who say they will speak to me, which is encouraging.
In the meantime, this got me thinking. What exactly is the municipality’s communications policy? I went to the RMOW website. I could not see any obvious links to the Communications Policy document. I typed “communications policy” in the search window and optimistically punched the search button. The results — not a thing. The search turned up materials relating to the annual Lost Lake toad trek, something about a Poet’s Pause reading and all sorts of interesting and esoteric topics. There was nothing on the communications policy and certainly no information on where it might lurk deep in the murky depths of the RMOW website.
Thinking it would surely it would be in the public interest to know how council functions, how they interrelate with staff and how they make decisions, I tried searching for the governance policy. The closest reference I found was something about democracy all year around.
The way I see it, this mayor and council are actively working toward more transparency and more accountability to the community. One easy step would be to post the communications policy, governance policy and other policies on whistler.ca. That way, when a staff person or councillor says that they cannot talk to us, we can read the policy for ourselves, see to what degree staff and councillors have been muzzled and decide for ourselves whether the clamp down on communications is in the public interest.