NORTH OGDEN -- City Councilman Brent Taylor feels his free speech rights are being violated by having to abide by the city's media policy that was initiated while he was deployed in Afghanistan.
He asked the city council to consider changing it a bit, but the rest of the council doesn't agree with Taylor.
Taylor's main objection is to the part of the policy that requires elected officials to email responses and copy them to other elected officials and the city public information officer, who is the city manager. Taylor doesn't object to the part of the policy that says anyone speaking officially on city business must be routed through the city manager, but he takes issue with the idea that information and opinions from elected officials should come under the same policy.
He referenced a recent email response he gave to a reporter, which he did not copy to the rest of the council. Once the information came out in the newspaper, he received several emails from other council members about his comments.
"They were mostly polite, and some were fairly nasty," he said of the emails from council members. He was accused of not staying on point with his information.
"I feel this is a suppression of my free speech rights," Taylor said.
The Standard-Examiner has filed a Government Records Access Management Act request to view the emails, but has not yet received the information.
Taylor consulted with City Attorney Jon Call on the matter. Call told the council the matter of elected officials and the policy is a "fuzzy" area. He said if an elected official is making an official statement, he or she can be required to write the information down and copy it to everyone else, but if it is an opinion and the council is requiring that opinion to be copied to everyone, it could be considered pushing the boundaries of free speech.
The policy also should allow employees and elected officials to express personal opinions, and if not, it is violating personal rights, Call said.
Taylor agrees that personal opinions should not be included under the policy.
"This can be a slippery slope if we are trying to control a person's free speech," Taylor said.
City Councilman Kent Bailey said he prefers that all discussions are held in city council meetings anyway. He said the news media should understand it is not a part of the sacred trust the council has with residents and that it is not an active participant in the process of government. Bailey said he thinks council members have been more courteous with one another under the policy.
City Councilman Justin Fawson doesn't feel he has been inhibited by the media policy.
He said "it is just common courtesy" to keep his fellow council members and others aware of his comments.
Fawson also said anytime he is speaking about the city, he is speaking for the city, not necessarily expressing his own opinions, so he and other council members' comments should be subject to the policy.
In addition to the email issue, Taylor wants to be able to talk on the telephone with reporters, which is something the policy prohibits unless the conversation is then written down and sent to council members afterward. He doesn't think it is healthy to have to share every piece of information with council members, because it sways what is said by others.
City Councilman Wade Bigler said it is a matter of transparency.
"We have nothing to hide. It's not about us, it's about the residents knowing the truth," Bigler said.
Former council member Dave Hulme spoke to the policy at the conclusion of the meeting. Hulme voted to pass the policy when he was an interim council member in Taylor's absence.
He wishes the council would have put a sunset clause on the policy so it could be re-examined.
"I'm not entirely clear what transparency is gained by the council copying each other (on emails)," he said.
He suggested that if the council really wants transparency for residents, they would post all email correspondence between themselves and elected officials on the website. He said he learned a lot about what was going on in the council when the Standard-Examiner filed its last GRAMA request for emails in February. He cautioned that the council be careful when it uses transparency as its excuse in responding to the media.
The four other council members told Taylor they would not re-examine the policy, because they were happy with it.
In a later phone interview, Taylor said he would talk to the press on the phone and would not copy his email responses to the council.
"I spent three years away from my family overseas to protect our freedoms. I'm not about to give up my free speech," Taylor said.
He doesn't like the idea of his opinions being governed:
"I will not be bullied, and free speech is part of the independent American spirit."