NORTH OGDEN -- After much discussion, the city council softened its media policy. It added another section to the policy, separating personal opinion of elected officials and official statements from the city.
The added section "encourages" elected officials to email conversations with the media to other elected officials, but does not require it.
The request for the discussion and change came after Councilman Brent Taylor returned from military deployment to Afghanistan -- he felt the policy as it previously was written violated free speech rights.
Taylor still had to argue his point at the city council meeting when Councilman Kent Bailey said that stronger wording than "encourage" should be used.
Three council members -- Bailey, Justin Fawson and Cheryl Stoker -- all said they were in favor of the policy stating that council members should notify other council members in writing about the content of a conversation with the media -- if the conversation is held over the phone, in person or through email.
Councilman Wade Bigler was not at the meeting.
Mayor Richard Harris also said it should be added that emailing media information to other elected officials is a "common courtesy."
Bailey wanted the stronger language because he likes being informed about what other council members are saying to the media and said just because the policy says elected officials should share their information with each other, it doesn't mean they have to.
"There is nothing binding, no penalties, no censure ... it's just what we as a city council would like it to be," Bailey said.
Taylor doesn't like the idea of creating a rule that he will go against.
"I want to follow the rule of the law," he said.
Taylor also feels that sharing the information with the council has an effect on what is said and he doesn't see that as free speech.
"You would never hear of a congressman or the state Legislature having to send out an email to every other member of Congress about everything they say to the media. This is what we are doing here," Taylor said. "No one else is doing that."
Taylor also took exception to the idea that sharing information about media conversations with other elected officials is a courtesy as Harris suggested.
"If council members want to know what was said to the media," Taylor said, "they should buy the newspaper or read it on online ... we are not saying, 'Let me tell a secret to the media.' "
The policy was amended without the stronger language Bailey suggested and without the mayor's suggestion of adding anything related to courtesy. Bailey said he wanted to get the policy passed and move on so the issue will be set aside.
"I want it to be said that we were never trying to censor anyone ever, ever," he said.
Resident Brian Russell took the council to task for its media policy.
"I was opposed when you originally passed the policy. I'm glad to see you softened it," he said.
He told council members he thinks they either have something to hide or are trying to impose a "group think" mentality, which he feels is dangerous.
"Courtesy doesn't need to be mandated," he said. "The purpose of the press is to be a watchdog for government. I get the feeling you think you don't need to be watched."
He would like to see the council scrap the media policy entirely.
"You need to earn respect rather than demand it from the media," Russell said.
In a phone interview, Taylor said he would also like to see the policy go away, but is happy to have some concessions and plans to let it rest for now.