By Korie Marshall
Some people might think I am beating a dead horse here, but I really believe transparency is important from government, and the issue with Valemount Council’s pay raise and their lack of transparency over the subject is still not resolved.
I do applaud Council for bringing their pay bylaw into the public’s view. That was definitely a good step.
But a bigger issue for me, as a person who is interested in the thoughts of those we elected, is the Village’s communication policy with media. I’ve had no satisfactory response from Council on that topic either, but I have received their communications procedure.
The Village doesn’t actually have a policy about media relations. It is a procedure that was created by a former council, in a closed meeting. Maybe that is why, at first, neither staff nor Councillors were able to show me the policy – it was an “in camera” item.
I have no idea why it should have been considered in a closed meeting. I thought about asking previous councillors, but I don’t think it really matters, because they are not in Council any more. What is important right now is that the current Council seems to be choosing to live by the procedure. They are the ones who could change it. They are the ones who can bring it to the public for a discussion.
The preamble to the procedure says there was discussion “around clear direction to staff how Village of Valemount Media Relations should be handled.” I don’t understand why that should have been discussed in a closed meeting, because it doesn’t appear to be one of those “Land, Labour, Legal” topics we usually see noted in the agendas for the closed portion of Council meetings.
Even if there is good reason for discussing it in camera, there is nothing in the Community Charter that says those items considered in a closed meeting have to stay in a closed meeting.
The procedure itself makes even less sense to me. It says “Council unanimously agreed the Media should always be directed to speak to the Mayor, and if the Mayor is unavailable the Chief Administrative Officer, and if both the Mayor and the Chief Administrative officer are unavailable the Corporate Officer with approval from the Mayor.”
I do recognize that a media policy might be required for staff. Lots of organizations have either media relations people, or media policies, and sometimes those policies say a lot about the philosophy of the organization. But it doesn’t make sense to me to keep that policy private, either from the point of view of the staff that have to act on the policy, or from my own point of view – the media trying to get answers.
Moreover does this procedure apply to staff, as the preamble would lead us to believe it was intended for? Or does it also apply to councillors? A councillor told me this procedure existed, which led me to assume at least some councillors feel it applies to them.
If that is true, councillors have let themselves be muzzled.
Council is not the same as staff. Council members essentially work for us, and I think it is a lot harder to argue that there should be a media policy for councillors. Transparency involves the courage to speak openly about public decisions and deliberations, unless there is a specific reason.
Election time is coming soon, and our councillors may run again. But if I ask them questions, are they bound by this procedure? Certainly others running against them would not be.
I am asking that Council repeal this “Media Relations Procedure,” created by a previous Council, and have their own discussion – in public – about what an appropriate media relations policy would be; then release the policy publicly.