NORTH OGDEN — The city council has unanimously adopted a media policy that encourages email contact with the media. The five-page policy designated the city manager as the public information officer to be the main point of contact for the media.
As outlined in the policy, once the city manager has any kind of contact with the media, he or she must alert all elected officials of the contact and all details of the conversation, either by telephone or email.
Discussion in the meeting centered on the part of the policy regarding elected officials’ contact with the media. It states: “Verbal requests from the media to any City elected official or employee that are not public safety, crisis or emergency inquiries shall be sent in writing to the city public information officer and elected officials. Responses to the media shall be sent in writing and copied to the city public information officer and elected officials. Copies may also be sent to other city spokespersons as needed.”
Mayor Richard Harris expressed concern over that clause. “I’m not sure it is proper for the mayor or city council to be restrained,” Harris said.
City Councilman Justin Fawson, who presented the policy for council consideration, explained that he doesn’t see it as restraining the council, but allowing more transparency because everything is in writing.
“Who knows what I said on the phone,” Fawson said. He would rather put it in writing.
Council members are also required to let everyone on the council and the public information officer see the email correspondence.
Fawson pointed out that the media can verbally make contact, but that responses need to be either emailed or recorded in such a way that the information can be emailed to everyone.
Under the policy, the police department will communicate with the media as it has in the past, with a main point of contact within the department.
City Councilman Dave Hulme wondered who the policy was trying to protect — the city or the individual — and said if it is the individual, it should be up to each elected official to decide how they handle the media.
Fawson said it is there to protect both.
“I know there has always been a good working relationship with the press. I don’t want the reputation of trying to censor,” Harris said of the policy. He expressed concern that it might be too complex with too many details.
The way television interviews would be handled was also brought up. Harris said the policy would need to stand for all media outlets.
Councilman Kent Bailey said that with television and radio everything would be recorded and there would be no confusion, so there should be no worry with transparency. He said he would welcome email contact from the media as well.
Resident Brian Russell spoke against the policy after the vote was taken. He thinks the city is trying to limit press exposure. He stated that people can misinterpret the written word as much as a verbal conversation and that writing everything down doesn’t give a clear picture to everyone.
“I don’t see you protecting us,” Russell said referring to the city protecting residents. He noted that not restraining the press is healthy and good and what the founders of the country intended.
Russell also said the media helps give residents an idea of what is happening in the city.
Fawson said there are minutes available and they are also written down. “You are not privy to information discussed when we are called on the phone,” Fawson said.
City Manager Ed Dickie also advised the council to look closely at the policy so as to not chase the media away from covering city events, and to figure out a way to give the media easier access to community activity employees.
“In no way is this (policy) written to limit the media,” Fawson said. “It is sharing information through the proper channels.”
He said if it doesn’t work out, it can always be changed.
Russell said he was glad it could be undone as easily as it was done.