Last week in this space The Question addressed the idea of applying open source concepts to the Resort Municipality of Whistler. While we indicated more access to information could be beneficial, we mentioned that communications with the community has greatly improved in the recent past.
Some may have scratched their heads, but if you think about it, the establishment of regular communications through newsletters and emails has increased the amount of information going directly to citizens from municipal hall. There is, however, another word to define that communications flow — propaganda.
Now it is time for the other shoe to drop this week — it is time to address the other side of the communications coin and how the RMOW interacts with local media.
The official communications policy restricts this newsroom each week and is a source of continual frustration. The policy, for those who are unaware, basically is that journalists may only interview on the record the mayor, CAO and the manager of communications.
Questions about process, procedure or decision making can only be put toward those three officials, and in fact the preference is that Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden answers all the questions.
CAO Mike Furey told The Question that in his experience with federal and provincial governments, elected officials are the only spokespeople for the organization. If we desire technical briefings, those can be arranged, however whomever they arrange for us to speak to cannot be named.
There is a huge problem with this policy in that, as a professional journalistic standard, we strive to always attribute information to the source. Unnamed and anonymous sources lack credibility and make us cringe.
That is if we can even get a technical briefing in the first place — remember that whole FE&A thing? We tried to get someone with the ability to explain that process on the phone one Wednesday and despite several emails and phone calls were unsuccessful.
Notice we said arrange — we don’t expect to be able to randomly call up staff members and pose questions to them outside of a communications process, but the reality is the citizens of this town and the democratic process of this community is undermined by this policy.
Indeed it is the complete and total opposite of being open, accountable and transparent. It demonstrates a control of power and management of information that flies in the face of those concepts and is a disservice to taxpayers and citizens of this community who look to local media as a means to inform themselves.
What seems to be missed at muni hall is that as a community newspaper we are a local partner and stakeholder in this resort. We are invested here, we are your neighbours and friends and professionals whose job it is to write about what is going on. That includes what is happening with the local government. Our motivation is not to engage in “gotcha” journalism, but to have dialogue as a community about issues that affect us all.
We are not suggesting that the mayor is not a competent and capable communicator or spokesperson — she is and will continue to be. But the question is whether or not it is appropriate for her to speak for administration all the time. There have been several instances where our questions have been specific and she is unable to answer those questions because she was not part of that process. The reason is that the mayor is not an employee of the RMOW, and as the political leader who would normally be expected to question administration’s process, how is it reasonable for her to also answer for it?