Thursday was provincial budget day and we wanted to find out how the mayors in larger centres felt about the province’s spending plans.
Paradise Mayor Dan Bobbett had good things to say, as did Conception Bay South Mayor Ken McDonald. Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms? Well, we reached him at an airport, between flights, and he said he wasn’t familiar enough with the budget. Fair enough — but he even picked up his own phone.
St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe? Missing in action. We called, left messages, heard nothing.
Friday, the messages still weren’t returned.
Instead, around lunchtime, a printed statement was released by the city’s communications department.
“Good afternoon, please find attached and embedded a media release regarding yesterday’s provincial budget. Thank you.”
The release itself? O’Keefe isn’t pleased — and “for further information” we’re to contact the city’s communications and public relations officer.
And it’s beginning to look like a symptom of a larger disease.
A couple of weeks ago, a news release from the communications department suggested that working media would not be welcome at a series of public sessions on parks and green spaces — the ban was later characterized as a misunderstanding, and media access was allowed at the first session last week.
But even after the restriction was lifted, Mayor O’Keefe was arguing in an email to a constituent that not allowing the media to record public sessions was a new effort to improve public access.
“Unfortunately, the media has put its own spin on a very positive move by the city to engage more people on issues and allow them to speak more openly. … This is a first step in more open public engagement! The media have not been banned, in fact they have been invited to attend but they have been asked not to record or report on what people are saying. They have also been told that at the end of a session they are more than welcome to interview and report those who want to do so!” O’Keefe wrote.
Makes you wonder what the next step is.
Also last week, a Telegram reporter contacted a city staffer about a story that he was working on — something that reporters have been doing here for years.
That brought a sharp response — once again, from the city’s communications department. “Good morning, as you are aware the city does have a media policy where all media calls for information are to come through the Communications Division. … If you would like to forward along your questions regarding the park we will facilitate you getting the information you are looking for.”
It’s not the first time that’s happened, either.
Communication is the two-way transit of information, ideas and concepts.
Information control, however, is a careful and deliberate attempt to restrict the release of information so that only the information that’s deemed appropriate is released to the media and the public.
The communications department at the City of St. John’s is dramatically bigger than it was even a year ago. With all that specialized expertise, we look forward to more communication. Recently, it’s been a bit rocky.